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A patent medicine was a medicinal compound that was advertised and sold as a cure for an ailment; however, the medicine never worked as advertised.
After Captain James T. Kirk returned from Rigel XII after successfully acquiring the much-needed lithium from the miners, Doctor Leonard McCoy jokingly asked him if he had considered working in the patent medicine business, as he must have given "quite a talk down there". (TOS: "Mudd's Women")