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Intellectual property

Module information>

Academic Direction
Laws Consortium
Modes of Study

The law of intellectual property rights seeks a difficult balance between rewarding the right owner of a piece of intellectual property, and the needs of society to gain access to scientific, technological or cultural benefits.

Intellectual property law is offered as an optional module to students on the Standard Entry and Graduate Entry LLB programmes. It is also available as an individual module. 

Credits acquired on an individual module will not count towards the requirements of the LLB. Intellectual property law seeks to balance the establishment of rewards for inventors and creators and the needs of society to gain access to scientific, technological or cultural benefits. It encompasses copyright, patent and trade mark law and some other related areas (including the legal protection offered to confidential information and designs). 

Topics covered

  • Categories of intellectual property rights. The subject matter of intellectual property. The justification for each type of right. Absolute and relative monopolies. Absence of common law protection against unfair competition. 
  • Sources of intellectual property law. International conventions. EU Directives. Statute. EU and UK case law. Decisions of the EPO and UK Intellectual Property Office. Decisions of EUIPO and the UK Trade Marks Registry. 
  • Remedies. For the enforcement of intellectual property rights. 
  • Confidential information. The theoretical basis of the action for breach of confidence. The requirements for liability. The position of employees. Ex- employees and involuntary recipients. Defences and remedies. 
  • Copyright. Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. The definition of copyright and the idea/expression dichotomy. Nature and types of protected works. Originality. Creation and ownership of works. Qualification for protection under the Act. Duration of rights. Infringement. Defences to infringement. The author’s moral rights. 
  • Industrial designs. Historical context. The exclusion of certain artistic works from copyright protection. Creation and content of the unregistered design right. Relationship with Registered Designs Act 1949. 
  • Common law protection for trade marks. The tort of passing off. Requirements for liability. Forms of passing off. Character, personality and image merchandising. The position of the foreign claimant.
  • Registered trade marks. The Trade Marks Act 1994 and the First Trade Marks Directive 1989. Definition, nature and functions of a trade mark. Obtaining registration. Absolute and relative grounds for refusal of registration. Revocation and invalidity. Licensing of trade marks. Infringement and defences, including comparative advertising and exhaustion of rights. 
  • Patents. Impact of the European Patent Convention on the interpretation of the Patents Act 1977. Applying for a patent. The role of the specification and claims. The skilled addressee. Types of patent (process and product patents). Requirements of patentability, including novelty, inventive step and industrial application. Exceptions to and exclusions from patentability. Ownership of patents and employee inventions. Revocation. Infringement, including categories of infringing act, defences and claim interpretation. 

Learning outcomes

If you complete the module successfully you should be able to:

  • Demonstrate knowledge of the United Kingdom statutory framework, together with the relevant case law, governing the acquisition, exploitation and infringement of registered trade marks, patents, copyright and unregistered designs;
  • Explain the common law principles governing passing off and breach of confidence; 
  • Assess the way in which EU law has limited the use of intellectual property rights to prevent parallel imports; 
  • Understand the way in which international conventions and EU secondary legislation have influenced the content of the UK legislative framework; 
  • Appreciate the commercial context in which intellectual property rights are created and the way in which litigation affecting intellectual property rights is conducted; 
  • Understand some of the theoretical debates surrounding intellectual property rights, including their justification, their economic effect and monopolistic tendencies and the ethical considerations that arise.
  • Apply their knowledge of Intellectual property law to complex legal problems; 
  • Locate, extract and analyse information from multiple sources, including the acknowledgment and referencing of sources; 
  • Distinguish key issues, formulate them with clarity and write fluently, using legal intellectual property terminology correctly; 
  • Develop a capacity for critical evaluation of argument and evidence as well as the ability to recognise potential alternative conclusions for particular situations and provide supporting reasons for them; 
  • Make personal and reasoned judgements based on an informed understanding of standard arguments in certain areas of law. 


4hr 15 mins unseen examination

Essential reading

  • Bently, L., B. Sherman, D. Gangjee and P. Johnson Intellectual property law. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2022) sixth edition [ISBN 9780198869917]. 
  • Bainbridge, D. Intellectual property. (Harlow: Pearson, 2018) 10th edition [ISBN 9781292002644] (available in VLeBooks via the Online Library). 
  • Llewelyn, D. and T. Aplin Cornish, Llewelyn & Alpin intellectual property: patents, copyright, trademarks and allied rights. (London: Sweet & Maxwell, 2023) 10th edition [ISBN 9780414111448 ].
  • Karapapa, S. and L. McDonagh Intellectual property law. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019) [ISBN 9780198747697].