Book Review: Intellectual Property in the New Millennium

November 2005

Essays in Honour of William R. Cornish. Edited by David Vaver and Lionel Bently, publisher Cambridge University Press, 2004 (ISBN 0 521 84643 9 (hardback), Price: £60 or US$100)
Essays in Honour of William R. Cornish. Edited by David Vaver and Lionel Bently, publisher Cambridge University Press, 2004 (ISBN 0 521 84643 9 (hardback), Price: £60 or US$100)

This is a celebratory volume of essays – or “festschrift” – in honor of William Cornish, recently retired from the Herchel Smith Chair in Intellectual Property (IP) Law at Cambridge University, United Kingdom. The editors are his successor in the Chair, Lionel Bently, and David Vaver, Professor of Intellectual Property and Information Technology Law at Oxford University.

The contributors are 22 specialists, all of them IP practitioners or University level teachers. The volume clearly has an appeal for specialists, but its lucidity will equally render it useful to students and to informed and interested general readers. The subject matter is divided into four sections, namely, general IP, patents and plant protection, trademarks and unfair competition, and copyright and related rights.

The book contains excellent coverage of newer developments in IP at the international level. Contributors show how the latest legal instruments reinforce or add to preceding instruments in their fields—for example, the 1991 revision of the UPOV Convention, and the compliance required by the World Trade Organization’s TRIPS Agreement and the WIPO Copyright Treaty with the norms of the much earlier Berne Convention. There are illustrations of the problems involved in the application of the Berne Convention, arising notably from developments in information technology, and from the need for clarification of existing definitions.

Comparative law is well represented in essays which compare the merits of common and civil law systems in Europe and North America. Readers are guided through the difficulties of evaluating whether the twin criteria of satisfactory justice at justifiable cost prevail in common law countries where first instance trials usually conclude cases, or in civil law countries where more appeals are the norm. Another interesting essay weighs the advisability of using criminal sanctions to enforce IP rights, tending to a warning that this may weaken the advantages of civil remedies, while the threat of imprisonment is not necessarily sufficient to deter infringers.

Essays on topical issues contain thought-provoking material, such as on the demand for biotechnology to meet the world’s food needs. There is also interesting commentary on the extent to which WIPO’s Internet treaties (the WIPO Copyright Treaty and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty) fully meet new needs.

One element lacking in this volume is contributors from developing countries, or essays devoted specifically to issues affecting developing countries. This is despite a preface which identifies “conflicts between developed and developing countries over the appropriate level of intellectual property protection” as one of the most pressing concerns of IP lawyers today.

A reviewer of such a collection is faced with the same kind of challenge as were its compilers – that of selection – and cannot do justice to all the essays. Overall, however, this festschrift is thoughtfully compiled and well written, on topics of considerable variety and importance, thus extending its shelf life beyond its immediate celebratory purpose.

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