A glimpse of IP Law: 3 key cases

'Intellectual Property refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions, literary and artistic works, designs and symbols, names and images used in commerce.' [1]

The importance of Intellectual Property (IP) Law stems from the notion that products of the intellect ought to be legally protected. Creators and inventors must be compensated in some way by acquiring certain rights for their hard work, creativity, and ingenuity. By creating a strong IP legal system, creators and inventors can feel safe to utilize their originality by developing their ideas, while society and world economies can greatly benefit in return.

The core branches of IP law are:




Three intriguing IP law cases, one for each legal branch, have been chosen to see for yourself how fascinating and versatile IP law can be.

COPYRIGHT is a 'form of property which comes into existence with the creation of its subject matter.'[2]

-Google v Oracle

The Story: Oracle sued Google back in 2010 claiming copyright infringement of their computer code. Specifically, Google used around '11,500 lines of Java SE code from the application programming interface (API) in its own user interface on the Android platform.'[3]

Legal Claim: If Google using Oracle's Java API ‘a widely-used 'building block' for programmers' constitutes 'fair use' in terms of US copyright law.[4]

Judgement: The US Supreme Court held that Google's copying of the Java code, was 'a fair use of that material'.[5] It must be noted, that the Court did not touch on the issue of 'whether Oracle could in fact copyright the lines of the code within the Java SE at issue.'[6]

Why it matters: This decision has been criticized by some, since it was considered favourable for Google. The reason is that this judgement could open the door to other companies that would, possibly, try to argue their case based on the argument of fair use to avoid acquiring a license beforehand. As it was argued, 'Google's copying of the Java code and use, in the multi-billion-dollar Android platform, has unequivocally destroyed Oracle’s ability to license.'[7] On the other hand, some have stated that the outcome of 'this case is a win for innovation because it allows programmers to copy code for the purpose of interoperability' and thus constitutes a positive development.[8] Although, on the flip side of this is the notion that this result further promotes 'the trend of making software less protectable in the United States'[9].

TRADEMARK is 'a word, symbol, or phrase, used to identify a particular manufacturer or seller’s products and distinguish them from the products of another.'[10]

-Marks & Spencer v Aldi

The Story: 2021. Marks & Spencer decided to sue Aldi for trademark infringement and a very popular cake in the UK is the reason. The original, produced by Marks & Spencer, is 'Colin the Caterpillar' and his 'rival' is called 'Cuthbert the Caterpillar', produced by Aldi.

Legal Claim: Marks & Spencer claims that 'their similarity leads consumers to believe they are of the same standard, and 'rides on the coat-tails' of M&S's reputation.'[11]

Judgement: At the moment, we will have to wait for this one.

Why it matters: Aldi and similar supermarkets which have a reputation for producing and distributing products that are quite similar to the ones of other well-established companies - as is the case with the famous 'Colin the Caterpillar cake' - in the UK have been freely producing them for a long time now. Not only that but as it has been pointed out, a number of other companies have produced similar cakes through the years. However, M&S did not react then. So, one might wonder, why now?

PATENT is 'a limited monopoly that is granted in return for the disclosure of technical information.'[12]

-Nike Inc. v. Adidas AG

The Story: It is 2012 and the London Olympics are approaching. First Nike and then Adidas introduced a new kind of running shoes. Nike named their model 'the Flyknit', and Adidas called it the 'Primeknit'.[13]Both are the first knitted running shoes that would aid athletes to perform at a high level due to their innovative design. As you may have guessed, since Nike was the first one to introduce this model, they decided to pursue a legal action against Adidas.

Legal Claim: Nike argued that 'Adidas' Primeknit shoes infringed a German patent covering its own Flyknit', while disagreeing to 'grant Adidas a covenant not to sue over its related U.S. patents', which led to Adidas challenging two of Nike's patents in 2016.[14]

Judgement: The Court 'upheld two Nike Inc patents against a challenge by rival Adidas', which could subsequently lead to Adidas being exposed to the possibility of being accused of infringement in relation to its Primeknit shoes.[15]

Why it matters: The battle between the two most established companies in relation to sportswear is indicative of the importance for the protection of the IP assets of one's company, and the potential financial damages that can emerge as a result of not protecting them efficiently against competitors. The product that Nike introduced 'was deemed to be the most momentous innovation in the fiercely competitive, and multibillion-dollar-earning sneaker market in years' with 'its Flyknit technology.'[16] The aim was to 'deliver peak performance for athletes while reducing manufacturing waste in the process'.[17] Thus, logic dictates that protecting this kind of innovation was crucial to the company's interests.

In Summary

The brief analysis of these important IP law cases highlights how multifaceted IP law is and the significance of safeguarding the expression of one’s idea. In our digital era, maybe more than ever, IP law has the unique ability of not only protecting creators and inventors from rampant IP rights violations that occur online but also enables us users to enjoy a wider range of IP protected goods and services. Concluding, it is evident that IP law should be acknowledged for its significant contribution to society through the years. The world is changing rapidly and so does IP law, making it a very intriguing legal field due to its ever expanding nature.


[1] WIPO, 'What is Intellectual Property?'. [2] Abbe Brown et al, Contemporary Intellectual PropertyLaw and Policy (Oxford University Press 2019) 52. [3] Foley and Lardner LLP, 'The Impact of Google v. Oracle: Google's Big Win at the Supreme Court' (JDSupra, 9 April 2021). [4] BBC, 'Google v Oracle: Supreme Court declares Google's code copying fair' ( 5 April 2021) [5] ibid. [6] Foley and Lardner LLP, 'The Impact of Google v. Oracle: Goolge's Big Win at the Supreme Court' (JDSupra, 9 April 2021). [7] Gene Quinn, 'License to Copy: Your Software Code Isn’t Safe After Google v Oracle' (IP Watchdog, 6 April 2021). [8] Gene Quinn, 'The Upshot of Google v. Oracle: An Apsurd Ruling Will Lead to Absurd Results' (IP Watchdog 9 April 2021). [9] ibid. [10] Harvard Law School, 'Overview of Trademark Law'. [11] BBC, 'M&S begins legal action against Aldi over Colin the Caterpillar cake', (15 April 2021). [12] Bently L., Sherman B., Gangjee D., Johnson P., Intellectual Property Law (Oxford University Press 2018) 393. [13] The Fashion Law, 'The Legal History of Nike v Adidas', (27 September 2017). [14] Brendan Pierson, 'IN BRIEF: Nike prevails in shoe patent dispute with Adidas' (Reuters, 25 June 2020). [15] ibid. [16]The Fashion Law 'Nike Nabs Win in Latest Round of Flyknit v. Primeknit War with adidas' (14 April 2020). [17] ibid.

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