Intellectual Property Law

This information is for the 2017/18 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Robert Pottage NAB 7.21


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

Content and Scope: 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. Given that information is an increasingly important source of commercial value within the modern economy, particularly for the entertainment and media sectors and science-based industries, it is not surprising that IP law is such a fast-growing field here and abroad. However its apparently relentless growth is 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 sectors as pharmaceuticals, and increasingly now biotechnology, and their availability in this context raise complex ethical and political 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.

This course will provide students with an introduction to the law relating to patents, trademarks and copyright, and to the factors responsible for the continuing rapid expansion of each of these regimes of rights. We will reflect upon 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 generally of recognising intellectual property rights.


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

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 2 essays in the MT and LT.

Indicative reading

The recommended text will be Lionel Bently and Brad Sherman, Intellectual Property Law (4th ed., Oxford University Press 2013), 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


Exam (100%, duration: 3 hours, reading time: 15 minutes) in the main exam period.

Candidates will be required to answer a total of three questions out of nine (one from each of three sections).

Key facts

Department: Law

Total students 2016/17: 49

Average class size 2016/17: 24

Capped 2016/17: Yes (50)

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

PDAM skills

  • Communication
  • Specialist skills