Corporate Branding In Pharma: An Evolving Strategy In The Emerging Scenario

Pharma advertisements in the mass media do not appear too frequently in India, for various reasons. Though few and far between, whenever these appear are mostly blunt and boring.

In that context, an interesting advertisement of a global pharma major featured in the May 25, 2015 Mumbai edition of the ‘Times of India’ arrested my curious attention.

The Ad does not talk about any medicine, nor does it caution us about or prevention of any disease. It does not even present the laundry lists of symptoms, urging us to rush to a doctor, whenever we experience any of those.

Though I was rushing thorough the pages of a bunch of newspapers at that time, under constraint of meeting an important deadline, the advertisement did prompt me to go into it. My eyes unknowingly followed the creative delivery of an intangible, yet unique ‘life style’ value proposition: “Life. To the fullest.” This was packaged with an innovative mix of intelligent copy writing and selection of emotive visuals with soft play of colors.

With a crisp copy, the Ad fondly takes one to the days of childhood, as it whispers…

“Remember when you were a child? The world was there just for you, to explore with bold and unbridled curiosity. A feeling of invincibility. Health fuels this state of mind, no matter your age.”

It then guides one’s attention to the corporate brand that commits to fulfill this promise and again with a cool swish tone:

“Abbott is about the power of health. We create new solutions – across the spectrum of health, for all stages of life. So every day can be just another play day.”

An innovative global ‘Corporate Branding’ strategy:

‘Wall Street Journal (WSJ)’ reported in December 2014 that in Rio de Janeiro, the same company created a WiFi channel for subway riders to listen to TED talks on their cellphones.

In Mumbai too, the Company has reportedly helped sponsor the TEDx Gateway convention, where there was an “Abbott Hive” room for participants to see new health technologies and meet speakers.

The WSJ article also underscored, “emerging markets accounted for about 40 percent of Abbott’s US$21.8 billion total sales n 2013. The sector will rise to about half of Abbott’s revenue after Mylan Inc. completes the acquisition of Abbott’s business that sells generic drugs in developed markets.”

Abbott reportedly planned to sell its generics business in the developed markets outside the United States to Mylan, retaining its generic brands in the fast-growing emerging markets.

Besides the above print Ad, I also noticed Abbott’s outdoor ‘Corporate Branding’ campaign in a couple of hoardings on Marine Drive and the Western Express Highway of Mumbai.

Just an example:

Before proceeding further, let me hasten to add that I have no intention, reason or motive to highlight any particular company’s marketing campaign, directly or indirectly, other than using it just as an example.

I reckon, this might leave a catalytic impact on an evolving frontier with a newer approach to ‘Corporate Branding’ within the global pharma industry in general and India in particular.

Such pragmatic and innovative strategic approach to create a novel corporate pharma marketing platform is indeed interesting. The domain experts in this area would be keenly watching its progress and would try to assess the net outcome of this seemingly cutting edge value creation process, on the pharma business as a whole.

It assumes greater significance as the process eventually aims at connecting with the consumers directly, creating an intangible value based robust cerebral link to overall brand portfolio offerings.

‘Corporate Branding’ versus ‘Product Branding’:

Corporate branding is broadly defined and explained as, “The practice of promoting the brand name of a corporate entity, as opposed to specific products or services. The activities and thinking that go into corporate branding are different from product and service branding because the scope of a corporate brand is typically much broader.”

Product branding, on the other hand, is “a marketing strategy wherein a business promotes and markets an individual product without the company name being at the center in the advertising or promotional campaigns.”

The success parameters:

Corporate branding is considered successful, “when consumers hear or see the name of the company they will associate, with a unique value and positive experiences. No matter what product or service the corporation offers, the corporate name is always an influence.”

If I am required to cite just one example out of many, and outside the pharma industry, I would say, ‘Apple’ has been established as a powerful corporate brand that focuses on the strength of its name as much as the features of any ‘Apple’ products.

The products usually attract a premium:

For a successful corporate brand, the name would immediately evoke a positive reaction in the consumers’ mind, without any detailed list of product features, and for which many consumers would be willing to pay a premium price, without any grumble.

Would it move the needle?

That’s really something to watch for. However, it holds that promise, undoubtedly.

The above types of corporate branding could help the concerned companies to significantly dilute the negative perception on a section of ‘Big Pharma’ constituents, acquired over a long period of time, though some of these players keep creating it even today, brazenly. This is happening as some of them continue faltering to even ‘talk the walk’ and most others do not probably want to ‘walk the talk’ either.

That said, the strength of the corporate brand image and the trust thus created on it would help building a strong positive image for the entire brand portfolio that the company offers, especially on brand promises, including efficacy, safety and overall high quality standards.

Broader impact of creation of a strong positive corporate public image with direct connects with consumers could be profound from sustainable business growth perspective, especially in a country like India.

Thus, innovative corporate branding strategies with direct connects to the consumers, like what we are discussing now, may help repositioning the pharma players as trusted healthcare partners.

‘Corporate branding’ initiatives of global pharma companies:

As reported by the ‘Wall Street Journal’, examples of initiatives taken towards this direction by some global pharma majors, besides Abbott, are as follows:

Pfizer’s “Get Old” campaign, though predominantly Internet and social media based, is aimed partly to strengthen its corporate reputation. With this campaign the company intends giving a new push to get people talking about their fear of aging, “Face your fears” being the company’s motto with its “Get Old” campaign.

Pfizer is reportedly also planning to showcase itself as “partners in health over a lifetime,” through corporate branding campaigns.

Johnson & Johnson launched a corporate advertising campaign, under the slogan “For All You Love,” focused on consumers, reportedly after the company faced recalls of children’s Tylenol and other over-the-counter medicines.

Eli Lilly & Co also has reportedly been planning to revamp its corporate brand.

Recently Biogen Idec changed back from the decade-old merger name to its original name, as the company would now be called just “Biogen”. The company used this name change to signal a new direction for the company.

The announcement of the change in name and the new logo was creatively used by Biogen to communicate the company’s broader focus beyond the multiple sclerosis treatments, which it is best known for, with the inclusion of Alzheimer’s and ALS treatments in its research and marketing portfolios.


All these boil down to the important point, that the pharma marketers would ultimately be prompted to ponder, as the industry moves on.

Keeping that in mind, they may now consider brain storming with an open mind to crystallize their thought on: Whether for sustainable excellence in pharma business, the respective companies should focus on corporate branding campaigns, separately altogether, with strong and direct consumer emotional connects.

Thereafter, strengthening association between the ‘Corporate’ and ‘Product’ brands at appropriate times, directly or indirectly, could well be a strategic call.

It has been amply proved that a robust corporate brand, created painstakingly over time, would evoke stronger respect, trust and loyalty of the consumers.

While navigating through unpredictable business environment facing tough headwinds, or during product mishaps, if any, such favorable disposition of the consumers to the company as such, would prove to be an invaluable asset, in the long run. Nestle could well be an example after its Maggi saga in India.

For this reason, I reckon; it may be prudent keeping product brands at arm’s-length from the corporate brand. This could, of course, be leveraged as a dependable cushion, if situation so warrants. Otherwise ‘Corporate Branding’ campaigns should fly solo, as these keep reaping tangible and intangible sustainable significant returns for the company, over a long period of time.

To sum up, ‘Corporate Branding’, though currently is an evolving strategy in the emerging pharma scenario, shows immense potential to spread its wings to fly. Some global pharma players have already started initiating it in different parts of the world. Pharma industry in India too is expected to catch up with this new strategic ball game… sooner.

By: Tapan J. Ray

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.

Utility Model: Would It Work In India For Pharma?

The revised draft of India’s IPR Policy penned by the Government constituted ‘Think-Tank’ in 2014, suggests enactment of new laws, such as for ‘Utility Models’ and Trade Secrets, to fill some gaps in the country’s IPR ecosystem .

However, media reports of May 21, 2015 indicate, the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) is not in favor of changing the country’s ‘Patents Law’ framework to allow grant of utility patents, as suggested by the ‘Think-Tank’.

Though comments from the other Ministries and Departments on the revised draft IPR Policy is still awaited, DIPP reportedly feels, ‘Utility Models’ being less-stringent form of intellectual Property (IP) protection, could ultimately lead to ‘ever-greening’ of patents.

A volte-face?

This development is indeed interesting because on May 13, 2011 the same DIPP uploaded in its website a Discussion Paper on “Utility Models”. Many believed at that time, it as a precursor of a new policy initiative of DIPP on Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) to encourage innovation in the country, without diluting the prevailing strict criteria for patentability. The above Discussion Paper highlighted, among others:

“…minor technical inventions which frugally use local resources in a sustainable manner need to be encouraged by providing a legal framework for their protection and commercial exploitation. Such useful, low cost and relatively simple innovations which create new mechanical devices or contribute to the optimal functioning of existing ones may have commercial value only for a limited time period, before they are replaced by other products or rendered redundant by change of technology.”

In that paper DIPP also highlighted that many countries of the world, for example; Australia, China, Japan, Germany, France, Korea and Netherlands still find the ‘Utility Model’ as an extensively used tool to foster innovation within the local industries.

We shall also touch upon this point below.

The Discussion Paper did trigger a healthy national debate on this subject at that time, though Government did not make known to the public the outcome of this public discourse.

The definition:

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) defines ‘Utility Model’ as follows:

“Utility Model is an exclusive right granted for an invention, which allows the right holder to prevent others from commercially using the protected invention, without his authorization, for a limited period of time. In its basic definition, which may vary from one country (where such protection is available) to another, a utility model is similar to a patent. In fact, utility models are sometimes referred to as petty patents or innovation patents.”

Or in other words “A utility model is similar to a patent in that it provides a monopoly right for an invention.

However, utility models are much cheaper to obtain, the requirements for grant of a ‘Utility Model’ are usually less stringent and the term is shorter – mostly between 7 and 10 years, as against up to 20 years term of protection for a patent. 

Major differences between Utility Models and Patents:

According to WIPO, the main differences between ‘Utility Models’ and patents can be summarized as follows:

  • The requirements for acquiring a ‘Utility Model’ are less stringent than for patents. While the requirement of “novelty” is always to be met, that of “inventive step” or “non-obviousness” may be much lower or absent altogether.  In practice, protection for ‘Utility Models’ is often sought for innovations of rather incremental in character, which may not meet the patentability criteria.
  • The term of protection for ‘Utility Models’ is shorter than for patents and varies from country to country (usually between 7 and 10 years without the possibility of extension or renewal).
  • In most countries where ‘Utility Model’ protection is available, patent offices do not examine applications as to substance prior to registration. This means that the registration process is often significantly simpler and faster, taking on an average about six months.
  • ‘Utility Models’ are much cheaper to obtain and to maintain.
  • In some countries, ‘Utility Model’ protection can only be obtained for certain fields of technology and only for products but not for processes.

Countries providing ‘Utility Model’ protection:

Many countries do not grant ‘Utility Models’. However, the major countries granting ‘Utility Models’, as stated above, include: Australia, China, Japan, Germany, France, Spain and Italy.

According to WIPO, currently the countries and regions that provide ‘Utility Models’ are as follows:

Albania, Angola, Argentina, ARIPO, Armenia, Aruba, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belize, Brazil, Bolivia, Bulgaria, Chile, China (including Hong Kong and Macau), Colombia, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Estonia, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Hungary, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Malaysia, Mexico, OAPI, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, Russian Federation, Slovakia, Spain, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Trinidad & Tobago, Turkey, Ukraine, Uruguay and Uzbekistan.

Interestingly, ‘Utility Models are not available in the United Kingdom or the United States.

A recent allegation of ‘Utility Model’ infringement against a global pharma: 

Quite recently, in November 2014, Copenhagen headquartered Forward Pharma A/S reportedly filed a lawsuit against Biogen Idec GmbH, Biogen Idec Internaional GmbH and Biogen Idec Ltd. in the Regional Court in Dusseldorf, alleging infringement of its German ‘Utility Model’ DE 20 2005 022 112 due to Biogen Idec’s marketing of Tecfidera® in Germany.

Tecfidera® – a product containing dimethyl fumarate (DMF) as the active ingredient, is used for the treatment of Myasthenia Gravis (MS).

Forward Pharma asserted that its above ‘Utility Model’ precludes anyone from selling in Germany, without the Company’s consent, drugs with DMF as the sole active pharmaceutical ingredient for the treatment of MS at a daily dose of 480 mg.

With this lawsuit Forward Pharma did not seek to stop sales of Tecfidera® to MS patients, but rather sought damages for what the Company believes are Biogen Idec’s unlawful sales of Tecfidera® in Germany.

Although ‘Utility Models’ are registered without substantive examination, the Company reiterated its belief in the validity and enforceability of the said ‘Utility Model.’

Subsequently, on April 14, 2015 Forward Pharma A/S announced that an interference was declared by the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) on April 13, 2015 between the Company’s patent application 11/576,871 (the “’871 patent application”) and Biogen’s issued patent 8,399,514 (the “’514 patent”).

The PTAB reportedly designated Forward Pharma A/S as the “Senior Party” in the interference based on the Company’s earlier patent application filing date.

Would ‘Utility Model’ be useful in pharma?

Utility Models (UM) are considered particularly suited for SMEs that make “minor” improvements to, and adaptations of, existing products. It is worth noting that UMs are primarily used for mechanical innovations.

However, in India, the ‘Utility Model’ concept in pharma would be directly conflicting with the intent and spirit of the section 3(d) of the Patents Act 2005 of the country, which clearly stipulates that mere discovery of a new form of a known substance which does not result in the enhancement of the known ‘clinical’ efficacy of that substance or the mere discovery of any new property or new use for a known substance or of the mere use of a known process, machine or apparatus unless such known process results in a new product or employs at least one new reactant, is not patentable.

Therefore, section 3(d) of the Indian Patents Act 2005, is considered as one of the most important safeguards against “evergreening” of patents, usually done through alleged “molecular manipulation or tweaking”, that delays entry of affordable generic equivalents, adversely impacting the public health interest.

In that sense, enactment of a new law granting protection to pharma ‘Utility Models’ in India could seriously jeopardize both short and long term health interests of the patients, in general.

This is primarily because, being denied of a 20 year product patent under section 3(d), the same company would then be eligible to apply and may also probably get a monopoly status for that molecule, though for a shorter term with ‘Utility Models’.It would obviously happen at the cost of quicker entry of equivalent affordable generics.


Considering all these, and having witnessed a serious allegation of a ‘Utility Model’ (which goes through no more than a liberal regulatory scrutiny) infringement, against a major patented pharma product that passed through the acid test of stringent and cost intensive regulatory requirements, it appears that ‘Utility Models’ need to be excluded, especially for pharmaceuticals in India.

This is purely for the sake of patients’ interest, at least on the following two counts:

  • All new/novel drugs, without any compromise whatsoever, should pass through the stringent acid test of the drug regulatory requirements for requisite efficacy, safety and quality standards.
  • ‘Evergreening’ of patents, under any garb, delaying entry of affordable equivalent cheaper generics, should not be encouraged in the country.

Thus, in my view, Indian Government should continue to remain firm with its bold stance on the relevance of section 3(d) of the Indian Patents Act. Any possibility of its dilution by a grant of market monopoly, though for a much shorter period, covering incremental innovations that do not conform to the country’s IP laws, must be openly discouraged with robust reasons.

In that sense, the flag raised by the DIPP on the intriguing recommendation of the IPR Policy ‘Think Tank’ for enacting new laws in India for ‘Utility Model’, appears to be pragmatic and far sighted, specifically in the context of pharmaceuticals.

By: Tapan J. Ray

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.