10 February 2007

Copyright and Confidential Information: Cembrit Blunn Ltd v Apex Roofing Services LLP

This case began life as a copyright and breach of confidence claim but it was clearly overshadowed by the question whether the complainant's roof slates were of satisfactory quality. Nearly all the facts and much of the legal analysis of this very long judgment was on the sale of goods issue.

The letter that was the subject of the copyright claim was an internal letter written by the executive vice-president of her second claimant to the managing director and sales and marketing director of the first claimant about possible settlement of a claim which had been threatened by the defendant against the first claimant in relation to some slates that had been installed. The letter had come into the hands of the defendant company which circulated it. The claimants sought injunctions to restrain publication and orders to reveal the source of the disclosure. The defendant counterclaimed for breach of contract alleging that the claimant's slates were not of satisfactory quality.

Giving judgment in Cembrit Blunn Ltd and another v Apex Roofing Services LLP and another [2007] EWHC 111 (Ch) (5 Feb 2007) Mr Justice Kitchin concluded that copyright subsisted in the letter, that such copyright belonged to the second claimant and that it had been infringed. He also held that the defendants were bound by a duty of confidence not to make use of that letter and that they had breached that duty. However, as he also found that the claimant's roof times were not of satisfactory quality it was by no means clear what relief could be granted.

This case is a good reminder that intellectual property cases do not always come neatly packaged and labelled as such outside law school. They often involve other issues such as contract, insolvency or company law. That's where solicitors and barristers sometimes have an advantage over patent and trade mark agents as litigators and advocates. It is also quite a good analysis of an important issue in the the law of sale which crops up in our line of work just as much as in other areas. Indeed, computer supply cases usually turn on that issue. So it is a case worth reading chums.

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