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International and comparative law of patents, trade secrets and related rights


The grant of a patent is a way to promote and protect innovation in both products and methods of production. The basis of patent law is an exchange: disclosure for exclusive rights. Where an inventor does not want to disclose the invention, they may rely on the law of trade secrets (breach of confidence) to prevent the unauthorised disclosure and use of the information. In this course you will study how, why and when patents are granted. During the course we examine patent law; we look at the law under the European Patent Convention (and in particular in the United Kingdom), the United States and Japan. We look at trade secrets law, in particular why trade secrets may be an alternative to patent protection. We also examine the law protecting trade secrets in various jurisdictions, international and regional agreements as well as special topics that draw on earlier material.

Module A: Comparative law of patents


  • Introduction to patents: history, justifications, agreements
  • Methods of applying for a patent
  • Patentability
  • The person skilled in the art, priority and grace periods
  • Infringement and exceptions to infringement
  • Entitlement/ownership of patents

Module B: Comparative law of trade secrets


  • Why protect trade secrets?
  • The distinction between commercial trade secrets and privacy
  • Relationship between trade secrets and patenting
  • Trade secrets law in England, the United States, Germany and France

Module C: International agreements on patent law


  • Paris Convention
  • TRIPS Agreement
  • European Patent Convention
  • Other regional patent agreements
  • Patent Cooperation Treaty
  • The Convention on Biodiversity
  • Patent Law Treaty
  • Budapest Treaty
  • Locarno Agreement on Classification
  • Supplementary Protection Certificates
  • Enforcement Directive (2004/48/EC)

Module D: Current issues in international patent law and policy


  • Utility models and petty patents
  • Biotechnological patenting (so-called life patents and gene patents)
  • Plant variety protection
  • Patenting of computer software and business methods
  • “Patent quality” and Peer-to-patent


Each module is assessed by a 45-minute unseen written exam.


It is strongly recommended you attempt the modules in order.

How to apply

You can apply to study a module individually as a standalone unit or as part of a Postgraduate Certificate, Postgraduate Diploma or Master of Laws qualification. (In either scenario, they must be studied in order.)

These modules also contribute towards the following specialist pathways for Laws:

  • Commercial and Corporate Law
  • Common Law
  • Comparative and Foreign Law
  • Intellectual Property Law
  • International Business Law
  • International Intellectual Property Law

Apply via Postgraduate Laws.

Study Material

Academic Co-ordinator

Professor Johanna Gibson

Professor Johanna Gibson

Professor Johanna Gibson is Herchel Smith Professor of Intellectual Property Law at the Centre for Commercial Law Studies (CCLS) and Editor-In-Chief of the Queen Mary Journal of Intellectual Property (QMJIP). She has consulted widely to industry, government, NGOs and the profession, and has been a visiting professor to institutions around the world.Johanna is a founding member of the International Society for the History and Theory of Intellectual Property (ISHTIP) and a current member of the executive committee (2007-2014).

Johanna is also series editor for Intellectual Property, Theory, Culture (Ashgate) and series co-editor (with Trevor Cook) for Intellectual Property: Practitioner Series (Edward Elgar Publishing) and has held numerous research council grants and private research consultancies across a range of intellectual property issues and areas. She has considerable media experience across television, radio and newspapers, including interviews with CNBC, BBC Radio 4, Wall Street Journal, The Guardian and The Times.

Professor Phillip Johnson

Professor Phillip Johnson

Phillip Johnson is the Professor of Commercial Law at Cardiff Law School. His main area of interest is intellectual property law, but he additionally has interests in sports and entertainment law, private international law and UK and EU public law.

He is a practising barrister at the Intellectual Property Bar, and a member of the Irish Bar, the Californian Bar and the Washington DC Bar. He is a Member of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, the American Bar Association as well as the Intellectual Property Bar Association. As an Appointed Person (tribunal judge), he hears appeals from the Intellectual Property Office on trade marks and design disputes.

He has consulted to the UK Intellectual Property Office, the World Intellectual Property Organisation, foreign governments, as well as industry, and he has given expert evidence in foreign proceedings.

As a practising barrister, he has advised well-known fashion brands, pharmaceutical and agriculture companies, broadcasters and publishers as well as national newspapers and celebrity magazines.