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Conversations with Professor Bill Cornish: Legal History in Context, and Defining Elusive Concepts as Intellectual Property

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 April 2022


Professor Bill Cornish was a legal scholar of vision, who was well ahead of his time in two widely disparate areas, and in both he became a recognised leader and authority: legal history and intellectual property law. In the former he applied what was then the novel approach of stressing the contemporary social conditions to which the extant law had to apply - something that modern commentators could well ponder, but which he was honest enough to acknowledge was also criticised by some of his peers at the time. As for intellectual property law, his place as the ‘father of intellectual property teaching and scholarship in the UK’ was acclaimed by his admission as a Fellow of the British Academy in 1984, and his place as the inaugural occupant of the Herchel Smith Professor of Intellectual Property Law, at Cambridge (1995–2004). Both these activities had their origins in Bill's long stay (1970–1990) as professor of law at the London School of Economics, where he was influenced by their emphasis on societal tertiary education, and his friendship with the renowned Anglo-German scholar Otto Kahn-Freund, respectively. In reality, though, Bill's upbringing in the unique milieu of immediate post-War South Australia, which he describes as a backwater of tranquility, and his urge to see Europe were the roots of his expansive vision of the law. Lesley Dingle interviewed Bill for the Eminent Scholars Archive (ESA) in 2015, nine years after his retirement, and these observations of this remarkable scholar are based on those conversations, and her readings of his works.

Occasional Series
Copyright © The Author(s), 2022. Published by British and Irish Association of Law Librarians

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1 Q. 2

2 Q. 10

3 Includes transcripts of the interviews, a summary biography, and photo gallery. Citations in the above text are to Question numbers in the original transcripts (Q. xx).

4 Q. 1

5 Sir Robert Richard Torrens, (1814–1884), third Premier of South Australia. Later, MP for Cambridge.

6 See Qs. 3–6 in the first interview.

7 Augustus Short (1802–1883), Bishop of Adelaide (1847–1882), Chancellor of University of Adelaide (1876–1882).

8 Reverend Philip Thomas Byard Clayton (“Tubby”) (1885–1972), Australian-born Anglican clergyman. He established the original Toch-H in the Ypres salient in 1915.

9 For example: Herbert Hart (1907–92), Professor of Jurisprudence; and Rupert Cross (1912–1980), Vinerian Professor of English Law.

10 See Q. 97

11 Peter Basil Carter (1921–2004), Tutor in Law at Wadham.

12 (1900–97), Professor of Law LSE (1951–64), Professor of Comparative Law Oxford (1964–70).

13 Qs 45 & 50

14 Q. 65

15 Beatson, J. and Zimmermann, R. (eds), Jurists Uprooted: German-speaking Émigré Lawyers in Twentieth-century Britain (OUP 2004), 872 ppCrossRefGoogle Scholar.

16 Q. 52

17 Q. 121

18 Tim Murphy, Professor of law LSE (1999-), Deputy Director LSE (2005-)

19 Richard Rawlings, Professor of Public Law, University College London

20 Q. 68

21 Q. 52

22 Charles David Lawson Clark,  (1933–2006) publisher and lawyer, authority on the law of copyright.

23 First published 1963.

24 Borrie, G J and Diamond, A L, The Consumer, Society and the Law (Penguin Books 1973), 352ppGoogle Scholar.

25 Kenneth William Wedderburn, (1927–2012). Baron Wedderburn of Charlton, Labour politician, lecturer in law at Cambridge, later Cassell Professor of Commercial Law, London School of Economics.

26 (Pelican) Paperback, 3rd Revised edition, 1986, 1040 pp

27 Q. 78

28 David Thomas QC, (1938–2013), later at the Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge (1971–2003), Fellow of Trinity College. Principles of Sentencing, Heinemann Educational Books, 1st Edit 1970, 350pp.

29 Q. 121

30 The Jury, 1968, Allen Lane, The Penguin Press, 298pp.

31 Q. 121

32 In the preface (p. vi) to Law and Society in England 1750–1950.

33 “Thompsons Solicitors is uniquely committed to trade unions and the labour movement. From our foundation in 1921, we have taken a central role in helping unions to protect the interests of their members.”

34 Q.123

35 Ibid

36 Q. 123

37 W R Cornish & G de N Clark, (Sweet & Maxwell 1989), 690pp.

38 Q. 123

39 Douglas Hay, Professor of Law, Osgoode Hall Law School. For example: D. Hay, P. Linebaugh, J.G. Rule, E. P.Thompson and C. Winslow, Albion's Fatal Tree. Crime and Society in Eighteenth-Century England (Allen Lane 1975), 352pp.

40 Q. 125

41 John H Langbein (1941-), Sterling Professor of Law and Legal History, Yale Law School.

42 Q. 125

43 Preface, p. v.

44 Ibid

45 Q. 123. As he spoke Professors Charles Mitchel, Rebecca Probert and Steve Banks were working on a new edition of the book (as of 2015) which has now appeared: Law and Society in England 1750 – 1950 2nd Ed (Hart 2019), 721 pp.

46 Q. 141

47 Q. 107

48 Q. 143

49 Stuart Anderson, Professor of Law University of Otago.

50 Michael Lobban, Professor of Legal History London School of Economics.

51 Ray Cocks, Professor of Law, University of Keele.

52 Patrick Polden, Professor Emeritus, Brunel Law School.

53 Keith Smith, Emeritus Professor of Law at Cardiff Law School.

54 Q. 141

55 Q. 141.

56 Martha Beatrice (1858–1943) & Sidney James Webb, 1st Baron Passfield (1859–1947), socialists, social reformers - co-founders of the London School of Economics (1895).

57 John Lawrence Hammond (1872 – 1949) historian and journalist. Barbara Hammond - nee Bradby (1873 – 1961) social historian.

58 1901, House of Lords decision upholding the Taff Vale Judgment, which ruled that a trade union could be sued and compelled to pay for damages inflicted by its officials. The dispute was between the Taff Vale Railway Co. and the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants in south Wales.

59 Q. 142

60 D. Roebuck, (2011) 77 Arbitration, 77, 161–165.

61 Q. 107, 108

62 Lionel Bently, Professor of Intellectual Property (Herchel Smith); Co-Director of CIPL, University of Cambridge.

63 D. Vaver and L. Bentley (eds), Intellectual Property in the New Millennium, (CUP 2004), 307pp, p. xii.

64 See his historical account of patent monopolies in Law and Society in England, p. 267–283.

65 8th Edit. 2013, 1–04, p. 6.

66 Q. 127.

67 See Cornish's account in Intellectual Property, 8th Edit. 2013, 3–05, p. 122.

68 Ibid 3–05, p. 122–123.

69 Ibid, 1–01, p. 4.

70 IP or IPR is a description of research results, business information and other original ideas whether or not they fall within the ambit of what the law protects as intellectual property or intellectual property rights. Ibid p. 4.

71 Q. 65.

72 Thomas Anthony Blanco White QC (1915–2006), Patent lawyer. His book: Patents for Inventions, and the Registration of Industrial Designs (Stevens, 1962).

73 Q. 65.

74 Sir Robert Raphael Hayim “Robin” Jacob, (1941-), Lord Justice in the Court of Appeal of England and Wales (2003–11), Sir Hugh Laddie Professor in intellectual property, University College London (2011-).

75 Patent attorney and manager at Hewlett-Packard, France.

76 Q. 65.

77 Q. 67.

78 Sweet & Maxwell, 9th Edit. 2019.

79 Professor King's College, London.

80 Professor King's College, London.

81 Q. 128.

82 Q. 69.

83 Founded in 1966 as the Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Patent, Copyright and Competition Law. In 2014 the institute changed its name to Max Planck Institute for Innovation and Competition.

84 Q. 71.

85 1993–94. National Academy Policy Action Group - Working Party on Intellectual Property.

86 Q. 99.

87 Q. 99.

88 Q. 139.

89 Q. 127.

90 Q. 128.

91 Q. 128.

92 Q. 129.

93 Q. 129.

94 Q. 137.

95 Q. 140.

96 Q. 128.