What Are Generic Drugs and When Does a Drug Become Generic?

Generic drugs are prescription drugs that have the same active ingredients as their brand-name counterparts. Generics work like brand-name drugs in dosage, strength, and performance. They also meet the same quality and safety standards as brand-name drugs.

When patent protection for a brand-name drug expires, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration can approve a generic version of it for sale. The patent protection for a brand-name drug is usually 20 years from the date of the submission of the patent. Since generic drug manufacturers don’t develop a drug from scratch, the costs to bring the drug to market are lower.

Not all brand-name drugs have a generic counterpart. Drug companies can introduce generic versions only after they’ve been thoroughly tested by the manufacturer and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.