How to Name a Medical Device

Medical device names are tricky. Not only is the medical field a crowded one when it comes to trademarks, but marks must accomplish multiple things in a somewhat restricted playing field. To assist marketers and others confronted with this task, here are some basic tips.

Don’t be boring—stand out!

The healthcare world—from surgical equipment to pharmaceutical products—is rife with invented names that mash together Greek and Latinate morphemes—Adcetris, Sylatron, Duexis, to mention a few. And while these names can sometimes more easily vault over the high hurdles of trademark issues, they can also end up sounding the same. As naming colleague Jay Jurisch aptly notes: “such names are only unique in the same way that every snowflake is unique in a blizzard, however, the uniqueness of an individual snowflake disappears.”

Anchor abstractions in reality

This is not to say that brilliant names haven’t been unearthed using this strategy—a name like Lunesta attests to the possible success of the Greek-Latinate route. Lunesta is a superior lexical blend in part because it’s grounded in understandable and appealing words: luna for moon, and the last two syllables of the Spanish word, siesta. So if you opt to travel the well-worn Greek-Latinate naming route, use recognizable words or word parts as road signs.

Don’t forget the FDA

While medical devices aren’t quite pharmaceuticals, the FDA still keeps a close watch on things. Unlike pharmaceuticals, the FDA doe not issue explicit guidelines for medical device naming.

However, the International Trademark Association does offer 3 tips for steering clear of FDA trouble when it comes to medical devices: 1) avoid names similar to existing devices; 2) don’t imply uniqueness in effectiveness; and 3) don’t overstate effectiveness. And of course, as is all product and company naming, you must carefully vet the name to be sure it doesn’t infringe on existing marks.

Patient-centered care

If the device is something that only medical professionals encounter or purchase, naming and branding is important, but functional benefit may take on greater weight. But if the patient is the intended audience, or a member of the targeted market, a different approach may be needed. There are several reasons for this.

Medical professionals may be well versed in the features and benefits of a pacemaker, whereas patients might only have a general impression of the device and its name. In examples: a name like Altrua (a pacemaker manufacture by Guidant) suggests truth, altruism, and offers a calming, soft sound due the rounded out vowels on either end. Vitatron, a similar product, feels more mechanical and as such, holds less emotional warmth.

Don’t be scary—or at least be scary in a relevant way

When considering a patient-facing name, it’s also important to avoid scary or unappealing imagery, even if it is brilliantly suggestive or descriptive. Kraken—a fearsome mythological creature with twisting tentacles—is pitch perfect for a rum name but inappropriate for a surgical device, even if it might be a clever way of conveying a device with hose-like attachments.

That said, don’t let your own fears of the device or disease guide your instincts—be sure that you understand the main benefits of using the device from a medical perspective.

For instance, in an anecdote about a friend who was faced with writing copy about an insulin needle, copywriter Bob Bly relates:

Having no idea what diabetics looked for in needles, and seeing his client didn’t either, he quite sensibly interviewed a few diabetics. Almost all of them said the most important attribute was that the needle be sharp. To the uninitiated, this seems off: wouldn’t that hurt? But if you’ve ever used a hypodermic to give an injection, you know that the sharper the needle, the smoother it goes in.

Bearing this in mind, Everpoint, a cardiovascular needle manufactured by Ethicon, is a fine name. In this case, what might be construed of as negative—a sharp needle—is actually a positive.

In closing, standing out from the pack is important. At the same time, you need to be careful that you don’t not over promise, falsely position the offering, or compound the fears people already feel around surgery with a frightening moniker. In sum, when developing a name for your device be sure to consider everyone who will be exposed to the device, from health administrators and medical professionals to patients and even their families.

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