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HealthInfo Canterbury

Generic medicines

Every medicine has an approved name called the generic name, for example paracetamol. Similar medicines often have similar generic names, for example the antibiotics penicillin, methicillin and amoxicillin.

Most medicines also have brand names chosen by the companies that produce the medicines. For the generic name paracetamol, for example, brand names include Panadol, Pamol and Parapaed.

Brand names always start with a capital letter. Generic names don't start with a capital letter unless they are at the beginning of a sentence.

A new medicine is usually protected by a patent. This means only the company that developed the medicine can produce and sell it. The company produces and sells the medicine under its brand name.

Patents normally expire after 20 years or so. Other companies can then produce and sell their own versions of the medicine. These versions are called generic medicines. Generic medicines are usually cheaper than the original brand name medicine.

For example, clopidogrel is used to help prevent blood clots forming. It was developed by a pharmaceutical company called Bristol-Myers Squibb. Bristol-Myers Squibb sells it using the brand name Plavix. The patent for clopidogrel expired in 2012. Generic clopidogrel is now produced and sold by several other companies. These other companies use brand names such as Clopid, Clavix and Clopirel (not all these brand names are available in New Zealand).

A generic medicine has the same strength, quality, performance and intended use as the original brand name medicine. This is called bioequivalent. Generic medicines contain the same active ingredient as the original brand name medicine.

Medsafe has to approve all medicines before they are sold in New Zealand. All medicines, including generic medicines, have to go through quality and safety checks.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed November 2016.

Image courtesy of zole4 at

Page reference: 193655

Review key: HIGME-193655