What are “Patent Medicines”, What Does the Word Patent Mean In Latin, and Where Did it Come From?

All new inventions, including medicines, require a patent; that is, their components must be revealed.

The word patent means an “open letter” and is a grant made by a government that confers upon the creator of an invention the sole right to make, use, and sell that invention for a set period of time.

During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, traveling medicine shows sold what they called “patent” concoctions, claiming cures for all manner of illnesses.

They got around the open-letter concept of a patent and kept their ingredients secret by taking a patent out on the shape of the bottle or its label instead of the formula inside.

The patent medicine industry began a slow decline in 1906 after years of critical newspaper articles led to the passage of the U.S. Pure Food and Drug Act, which required ingredients to be listed on labels.

The Word “patent” is from the Latin patentum, meaning “lying open.”

Many brand names that started as patent medicines are still with us, including Absorbine Jr., Bromo-Seltzer, Pepsi-Cola, and Coca-Cola.