Intellectual Property Law

This information is for the 2019/20 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Sivaramjani Thambisetty Ramakrishna

Dr Luke MacDonagh


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. 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 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. Trade Marks 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.

The curriculum of LL251 reflects the fact that it will be examined by means of an 8000-word essay. Instead of expecting students to acquire a more detailed knowledge of the mechanics of each of the principal branches of intellectual property law (copyright, patents, and trade marks) the course is structured around a strong theme that runs persistently through all parts of IP law, which will also be the basis of the dissertation topic that will be assigned at the start of the year. The objective will be to develop the skills required to engage critically with the mechanics of each branch.

Indicative themes include the public domain, which is often construed as the most basic architectonic principle of intellectual property law, and the incentive effect, one of the most essential strands in the justification of intellectual property laws. We use the chosen broad rubric both to introduce the basic elements of each branch of intellectual property and to focus in on examples which illustrate contemporary intellectual property law: the constitution of the public domain in digital environments, the capture of public discourse by leading brands, the impact of incentives in the creation of software, the international dimension of incentives in the pharmaceutical sector. Students are invited to use these and other case studies as resources for writing the final dissertation.

Seminars will be based on informal lectures, class discussion, and a variety of exercises. Reading lists include further readings to enable students to explore certain themes more broadly or more deeply.


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

Formative coursework

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

Indicative reading

Bently and Sherman, Intellectual Property Law, OUP 2018.

The course is supported by Moodle, so reading lists will be linked there or accessible via library-based websites.


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

Key facts

Department: Law

Total students 2018/19: 49

Average class size 2018/19: 25

Capped 2018/19: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills