Cornish’s Textbook on Intellectual Property (1981)
The current generation of intellectual property scholars considers Bill Cornish’s intellectual property textbook, published in 1981, a seminal text. The book tackled a whole range of intellectual property issues in a single volume. As one of the first intellectual property textbooks specially produced in and for the university, Cornish’s book was fundamental, and unique, in shortening the distance between education and profession. His textbook was a tool for the transmission of knowledge about intellectual property law even before it was practiced.

Further references:

Audrey Alison Horton “Book review: Intellectual property (patents, copryight, trade marks and allied rights)” 12 (8) European Intellectual Property Review, 1990, p. 307.

Carol Tullo (Sweet & Maxwell) on editing Cornish's textbook

Facilitator: What was interesting of this book was that it was one of the first to link the different branches of Intellectual Property and I think in that sense was quite groundbreaking.
Carol Tullo: Yes, it was.
Facilitator: Do you recall it?
Carol Tullo: I do, in a way this book came out of a lot of connections with Bill Cornish. I didn’t know him particularly well, but he came out of our academic list and the one thing at the time that we very much split out was the practitioner publishing and student publishing. When I was Publishing Director, obviously, I had an overview of the whole thing and in fact, I worked very closely, because as I was developing my career and my seniority within Sweet & Maxwell, the Director I then worked with also was responsible for student publishing. So I worked with a lot of colleagues, Dick Greener who left Sweet & Maxwell, retired from there, only about a year ago. He actually, basically headed the student list at one time. I can remember the discussions about this and I can remember challenges about was there a market for it? We wanted to encourage new writing, we wanted to test out new subject areas for academic study and also we also wanted Bill Cornish to be able to stay as a Sweet & Maxwell author. We didn’t want him to take his book anywhere else either and it was good writing. He was really very, very good. One of the things we did with a number of areas with classic reference works is ( remember, chambers and barristers and senior solicitors, because solicitors started writing as well, but originally it was very much the specialist Bar) we would try to introduce them to a very, eminent academic, because that would help speed up the process, but also the academics sometimes might be closer to the case law, closer to following what was going on in statute law whereas of course, barristers were very much [dependent on their] client base. So some of them could be doing major cases that would take years and years, so they weren’t always as current so this sort of dream team, as we used to call it, was to bring in academic partner authors.
So this is where you’d get and particularly, I remember in Land Law when Housing Law emerged as a new branch of law with Arden & Partington, Martin Partington, and Andrew Arden started to work with Megarry and Wade.So you could see that we looked all the time at how could we get the best team. I do remember this book and I do remember originally, my memory is, this is the first edition in ’81, second impression in 1982. It obviously was successful it was reprinted very, very quickly. I think, my memory is and it may be faulty, but it was commissioned as a starter academic textbook that was looking at the whole ofof Intellectual Property and was there for those who were starting to work in Intellectual Property by studying it, but also young practitioners to get an overview of the subject which you wouldn’t pick up a Copinger.
But I seem to remember that the manuscript came in and it was much, much bigger and it gave us a real pricing issue, because the view at the time was there was a price point for our student books and I suspect that, that caused quite a lot of anxiety at the time because this is actually quite a meaty book for a first edition, over six hundred pages. I’m guessing that we very much compromised a little bit and just thought, well, we can’t price over certain level, let’s see what happens and I think it was probably more successful, because initially it was a bridging book not just for students, bit also for younger and less experienced practitioner to the classic works. I think it then found its niche and it’s obviously gone on to develop it. And perhaps also look at intellectual property not just any lawyer studying Intellectual Property, there were lots more other professions that required awareness of the subject and started to use what were traditional law textbooks. So we started doing books for surveyors, we started doing books for Patent Agents because not just the traditional Intellectual Property Lawyers.

Chris Rycroft (formerly, Sweet & Maxwell) on IP student textbooks

Chris Rycroft: Yes, well what I should say about textbooks is that at Sweet & Maxwell, I wasn’t responsible for them. Sweet & Maxwell had a special team devoted to student textbooks. And to a certain extent, it was slightly frustrating for me feeling that I wasn’t responsible for Bill Cornish’s IP book. And he also had a book of cases and materials. But just reading some notes that I have from those days, I have been reminded of the fact that whatever happened on the previous edition of his text book, Bill obviously wasn’t at all happy with the way he’d been dealt with by Sweet & Maxwell. Something must have gone wrong. I’m not quite sure what.
But in the end it got passed to me to deal with. I went to meet him in Cambridge at his home and had a nice meeting with him, and everything went very smoothly and it was just a delight to work on. I think I personally edited the book. I knew from talking to people that it was regarded as not a very easy text book to use because Bill had quite a dense writing style, which was fair enough. I mean, it was the book. The one that paved the way for all future IP books. So I did what I could in terms of the format to try to make it as accessible as we could.
But it was still very much Bill’s book. I have a note on file that he was due to deliver it towards the end of 1995, I think. I have a file note that I rang him up to ask him how things were going. And he said that no one at Sweet & Maxwell had ever rung to enquire how things were going before. So this was the kind of author care that he’d never experienced before. So anyway, that might explain his dissatisfaction with the previous edition, I don’t know.
Facilitator: Do you remember any of your competitor’s text books?
Chris Rycroft: Well, at the time they weren’t that many. But it was just the time when there was an explosion about to happen. Jeremy Phillips and Alison Firth had done their much more succinct introduction to IP for Butterworths and I think they did it very well, because it was accessible compared to Cornish. I’m not sure what else was available at the time. I think it was just those two and then there was a real explosion. A whole load of new ones came through. So Holyoak & Torremans’ [book], and obviously Bently and Sherman came a bit later because that was while I was at OUP that we published that. I don’t know exactly when all these things happened, but I have a note on the file that at Sweet & Maxwell we were considering publishing a more accessible textbook, and that as the editor I was –responsible for dealing with Bill Cornish.
I must have been told I had to raise this with him and he wasn’t happy. I mean, quite understandably. Sweet & Maxwell was the publisher of his book, which was the one and only IP student book. Why would Sweet & Maxwell want to undercut its own leading student book with another book? Well, obviously the answer is that canny publishers publish several different books at several different levels. But he was fundamentally right. I am sure that sales of Cornish IP fell off gradually because there were other books available for lecturers to recommend instead. The Russell group would have gone on using Cornish or recommending it, whereas other people might’ve thought that was just way over the top for their students and they wanted something shorter and more accessible. I can’t quite remember what it was that Sweet & Maxwell were thinking of doing. There was probably something that was being commissioned at around that time on IP.
Facilitator: I think at some point there was Robin Jacob’s book.
Chris Rycroft: Well, yes, but that wasn’t a student book at all. That was just what Robin thought it should be. I was also responsible for that at various stages, because Robin got so upset with how it was being handled. In the end he took it to Richard Hart, because he was so fed up. That was a classic example of Robin and Daniel Alexander taking on what had been the Blanco White book. I think that’s right, and that was its origin. So I really can’t remember quite who handled it in what different editions, but I think at one stage it was handled by the student team at Sweet & Maxwell even though it wasn’t written in that way. Robin would have been the first to say that he wanted it to be treated as a book that was available in the book shops and in all airports. That was the classic thing he used to say. Because you know he imagined a business man picking it up and reading it on a flight to New York and learning to understand how IP worked. But I don’t know, I mean obviously it was very much a book that was written from a British barrister’s point of view. And so it wasn’t really suitable as a student text book. It just wasn’t complete enough. It wasn’t really written in a style that was accessible enough for your businessmen, but it was a very interesting book because they had lots of really interesting practical anecdotes and insights and things. So it was really nice to have it on the Sweet & Maxwell list, but they were never happy with the sales figures that were achieved. I know that one of the other things that Robin always felt was that it should have been selling in much bigger quantities overseas. But it was quite tricky.
Facilitator: Was that the one with a lemon?
Chris Rycroft: Well, at one stage it had a lemon on it, at one stage it had the Arsenal logo on it. All of these were demanded by Robin, and Sweet & Maxwell caved in and gave him what he wanted on every occasion because he would get agitated. I mean, at least it is relatively easy to give someone the cover they want, even if you can’t give them the sales that they want. I think I’m right in saying that he ended up going to Richard Hart with it. So it’s now on the Hart list I suppose. I liked it as a book, but it was a really difficult sell, because it was so hard to pigeonhole. I mean it’s very ‘barristerial’. It’s holding forth. It’s great, it’s good read. But mainly for an IP practitioner who knows a lot and is just enjoying the style.
Cornish's Textbook on Intellectual Property (1981)