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The Two Mercks Are Locking Horns in a Naming Trademark Spat

April 18, 2016, 9:18 PM UTC
RAHWAY, NJ - NOVEMBER 29: A man walks by a sign at a Merck plant November 29, 2005 in Rahway, New Jersey. U.S. pharmaceutical giant Merck, announced plans to cut some 7,000 jobs, or 11 percent of its global workforce, by the end of 2008. (Photo by Marko Georgiev/Getty Images)
Photograph by Marko Georgiev — Getty Images

There are not one but two drug-making firms called “Merck,” and their relationship spans centuries of corporate pharmaceutical history. So perhaps it’s not too surprising that one of the biggest ongoing scuffles between the two companies in recent times centers on their shared name.

America’s Merck & Co. (MRK) is one of the largest pharma companies in the country and the world. But it was originally part of German parent company Merck KGaA, which actually reserves the rights to the “Merck” name in the vast majority of the world (and is, for its part, one of the oldest pharma companies in the world).

The U.S. Merck is branded Merck Sharp & Dohme, or MSD, in all nations other than the United States and Canada while its German ancestor is dubbed EMD Group is America. And that’s led to some understandable tensions, especially when it comes to digital marketing and website domain procurement, as FiercePharma reports.

Merck & Co. responded to these scuffles with a trademark infringement suit against Merck KGaA at the beginning of the year, claiming that the latter firm isn’t playing in good faith when it comes to its existing territorial naming agreements.

But Merck KGaA isn’t going down without a fight. In fact, the drugmaker has lobbed allegations of trademark impropriety right back at its generational descendent, arguing that Merck has ducked its responsibility to identify as MSD in much of the world.