Intellectual Property Law

This information is for the 2018/19 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Robert Pottage and Dr Sivaramjani Thambisetty Ramakrishna


This course is available on the BA in Anthropology and Law and LLB in Laws. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.

Course content

Intellectual Property Law consists in the rules determining when, and subject to what conditions, the activity of producing information (broadly conceived) can generate rights to exclude others from access to information. Unlike the physical objects associated with real property rights intangibles are non-rival and non-excludable. While the chair you may be sitting on accommodates only one person, many can whistle the same tune without depriving others of it. Yet while it often takes creativity, effort and investment to produce them, intangibles may be easily copied. To restrict this copying and thereby encourage the production of information, the law intervenes by establishing intellectual property rights around certain valuable intangibles – creative works like books, paintings and songs; inventions ranging from vaccines to the bag-less vacuum cleaner; and valuable brands like Coke ® or Google ®.

Given that information is an increasingly important source of commercial value within the modern economy, it is not surprising that Intellectual Property Law is such a fast-growing field here and abroad. Its apparently relentless growth is however, the focus of vigorous debate. Copyright already provides the legal foundation for the well-established film, music, TV and publishing industries, and its continuing expansion is said by some to be crucial given the trend towards media convergence in the ‘digital future’, and by others to be a threat to free speech and freedom of access to information. Patents sustain such key and diverse technologies as pharmaceuticals, biotechnology and computer implemented inventions; and the availability of these rights in rapidly developing sectors like synthetic biology or smart phone technologies can often raise complex ethical, political and innovation policy issues. Trademarks are central to effective advertising and marketing but at the same time exemplify the tendency of more and more aspects of our cultural landscape to be ‘commodified’; they have attracted support and denigration in equal measure for this reason.

While introducing the law relating to patents, trademarks and copyright, this course will provide an opportunity to reflect on the factors responsible for the continuing rapid expansion of each of these regimes of rights. We will examine the variety of economic, cultural, political and technological pressures for the reform of Intellectual Property Law, and upon the processes by which these become translated into legal initiatives. And we will evaluate critically the implications for economic activity and social life of recognising intellectual property rights.


20 hours of seminars in the MT. 20 hours of seminars in the LT.

Additional revision seminars in the ST

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 essay in the MT and 1 essay in the LT

Indicative reading

The recommended text will be Lionel Bently and Brad Sherman, Intellectual Property Law (4th ed., Oxford University Press 2014), and students will also be required to purchase one of the available edited collections of statutes. For a critical introduction to the field, see Peter Drahos with John Braithwaite, Information Feudalism: Who Owns the Knowledge Economy? ((London: Earthscan, 2002); and James Boyle, The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind (Yale University Press, 2008), ebook available free online.


Essay (100%, 8000 words) in the ST.

Key facts

Department: Law

Total students 2017/18: 15

Average class size 2017/18: 16

Capped 2017/18: Yes (25)

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

PDAM skills

  • Communication
  • Specialist skills