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International and comparative law of trade marks, designs and unfair competition


Trade marks and other distinctive signs act as a valuable tool in a competitive economy by denoting links between products and their sources. The source may be an actual geographical location or factory, a distributor or retailer, or even an advertiser. Trade marks convey information to consumers, competitors, and other market players. As well as word marks and logos other signs may be used to distinguish products, for example the appearance of goods or a jingle. In International and comparative law of trade marks, designs and unfair competition you will study the legal means by which the informative value of these signs is maintained. One means is by registration as a trade mark. However, the laws of different countries in their different ways have evolved other ways to protect signs against unfair competition. The concepts underlying these forms of protection and important international agreements are also discussed in the first part of this course.

Module A: The concepts of trade marks, designs and unfair competition


  • Introduction to the concept of trade marks: a functional, legal, and economic analysis
  • Introduction to unfair competition
  • The history of trade marks
  • Systems of protection; registered and unregistered trade marks
  • International agreements: the Paris Convention; the World Trade Organization; International Registrations; regional agreements; European UnionTrade Mark (introduction); classification treaties; Trade Mark Law Treaty; appellations of origin; the Olympic symbols.

Module B: Unfair competition


  • Systems of unfair competition: a comparative perspective
  • Misrepresentation and misappropriation
  • Unfair competition in the United Kingdom
  • Unfair competition in the United States
  • Unfair competition in France
  • Unfair competition in Germany
  • Other jurisdictions.

Module C: Registered trade marks


  • Registered trade marks: a comparative perspective
  • Systems of registration: first to file v. first to use
  • Registered trade marks in Europe: the European Union Trade Mark; national registrations (United Kingdom; France; Germany); the role of the European Court of Justice
  • Registered trade marks in the United States.

Module D: Special topics in trade marks


  • Trade marks and domain names
  • Industrial designs; relationship to other forms of protection; design rights; Hague Agreement Concerning the International Deposit of Industrial Designs, as amended
  • Appellations of origin
  • Trade marks and competition: parallel imports; functionality and the interface between trade marks and other intellectual property rights; comparative advertising
  • Cultural issues: advertising; character merchandising; symbols of indigenous communities.


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


It is strongly recommended that you attempt Module A first, and Module D last.

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

Academic Co-ordinator

 Professor Alison Firth

Professor Alison Firth

Alison Firth is Emeritus Professor at University of Surrey and convenes the International and Comparative Law of Trade Marks, Designs and Unfair Competition course.

Alison originally read physics at Oxford (St Hugh's College); later she took an MSc in polymer physics and taught physics and mathematics in London and in Lima, Peru. Pursuing an interest in patents, she qualified as a barrister and has practised in intellectual property chambers since 1983 (currently as a door tenant at Ingenuity Intellectual Property Chambers). From 1987 - 2004, Professor Alison firth was a full time member of the Intellectual Property law unit at the Centre for Commercial Law Studies, Queen Mary, University of London where she was a visiting Professor. From 2005-2009 Alison was Professor of Commercial Law at Newcastle Law School, where she is now a visiting professor. From 1994-2007 she was honorary legal adviser to the British Copyright Council. In February 2009, she took up a chair in law at Surrey. On her retirement in 2012 she was appointed Professor Emeritus in law at the University of Surrey. In February-April 2013 she was an Erskine visiting fellow at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand, returning to Canterbury as a KEENZ visiting scholar in March/April 2014. In 2013 and 2015 she taught patent law for Singapore's Intellectual Property Academy.