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UK Case Law on Intellectual Property

UK case law on intellectual property refers to the judgments and decisions issued by courts in the UK, including the Supreme Court (formerly the House of Lords), the Court of Appeal, and the High Court, in relation to intellectual property matters. Here are some notable UK cases in the field of intellectual property:


Catnic Components Ltd v Hill & Smith Ltd (1982): This case is significant in the field of patent law. The House of Lords established a test for patent infringement, known as the Catnic test, which examines the pith and marrow of a patent claim to determine infringement. The doctrine of pith and marrow is the UK version of the doctrine of equivalents which requires that a patent must be read in a purposive manner that focuses on the essential features of the patent. 


Lucasfilm Ltd v Ainsworth (2011): This case involved the copyright protection of Stormtrooper helmets from the Star Wars movies. The issue concerned whether costumes could be considered sculptures eligible for copyright protection and provided important clarifications on the scope of copyright in such works. The Supreme Court ruled that the Stormtrooper helmets could not be considered a sculpture for the purposes of Section 4 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.


Interflora Inc v Marks and Spencer plc (2012): This trademark case involved the use of keyword advertising and its potential trademark infringement implications. The High Court held that under certain conditions the use of a competitor's trademark as a keyword in online advertising could constitute trademark infringement. The factors for consideration include what constitutes the average consumer, the effect of keyword advertising on the origin function of trademarks, the effect of keyword advertising on the investment function of trademarks, and unfair advantage and due cause.


Cartier International AG v British Telecommunications Plc (2018): This case dealt with the liability of internet service providers (ISPs) for trademark infringement. The Court of Appeal ruled that ISPs could be compelled to block access to websites selling counterfeit goods, providing a mechanism for trademark owners to combat online infringement.


These cases, among others, have shaped the interpretation and application of intellectual property law in the UK. They provide guidance on issues such as copyright infringement, trademark protection, passing off, database rights, and other intellectual property matters. UK case law plays a crucial role in developing and refining the intellectual property framework in the country and addressing emerging legal issues in this field.


You can learn more about each topic and other relevant case law with our exam-focused Intellectual Property notes.

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