It’s not just drug companies that push the limit on marketing their products – see our posts about recent OPDP warning letters. Medical device companies are fighting for any edge to differentiate their products too. Even before COVID-19 brought an onslaught of new players to the FDA-regulated space, many sophisticated medical device companies used to include FDA’s logo on marketing materials to imply that FDA had endorsed their products. The misuse of the logo became so pervasive that FDA issued an official “FDA Logo Policy,” which warns that “[u]nauthorized use of the FDA logo may violate federal law and subject those responsible to civil and/or criminal liability.” Despite this threat, FDA continues to cite companies for misuse of the logo. See, e g., Warning Letter issued to Silkprousa LLC (Aug. 18, 2020) (“Your device is also misbranded under section 502(a) of the Act, 21 U.S.C. § 352(a), because your labeling on the package of your device and your website uses the FDA logo. The FDA logo is for the official use of the FDA and not for use on private sector materials.”).
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused companies to exercise even more creative license in an attempt to differentiate products that might otherwise appear interchangeable (e.g., 3-ply disposable face masks). We have seen the advent of the “FDA Registration Certificate,” which looks like an official government document, and sometimes includes the FDA logo (illegal by itself), the establishment registration number, or a screenshot of the FDA establishment registration database showing the company’s registration status. Any savvy FDA lawyer knows that registration alone does not convey information about the company or product’s regulatory compliance status, and certainly does not imply FDA approval or endorsement of a product, but not all of us can be savvy FDA lawyers.
On March 3, 2021, FDA announced that it had told 25 companies that produce these so-called “FDA Registration Certificates” to stop issuing them. We have not yet seen the letters FDA issued to the certificate-producing companies, and it’s unclear whether FDA will follow-up with enforcement action if these companies fail to cease distribution of these documents (and if so, on what grounds).
In conjunction, FDA released a new webpage titled “Are There ‘FDA Registered’ or ‘FDA Certified’ Medical Devices? How Do I Know What is FDA Approved?” Spoiler alert: the answer to the first question is No. The key points FDA highlights are:
- When a facility registers its establishment and lists its devices, the resulting entry in the FDA’s registration and listing database does not denote approval, clearance, or authorization of that facility or its medical devices.
- The FDA does not issue any type of device registration certificates to medical device facilities.
- Firms that misleadingly display certificates alongside information about and photos of a device for sale in the United States to imply review or approval by FDA of the device misbrand the device in violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.
FDA also provided detailed directions for identifying a product’s status – whether it has been approved or cleared, or authorized under an Emergency Use Authorization. Circling back to the grammatically curious title of this blog post, FDA’s point is that registration “don’t mean a thing” “if it ain’t got that” 510(k) clearance, PMA approval, de novo classification or EUA authorization – not as catchy as when Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington sing it.