Monday, 25 March 2013

Oxford IP Moot: Part 1

Last Thursday on 14th of March the Oxford Intellectual Property Research Centre (OIPRC) opened its doors to welcome students, academics and practitioners from home and abroad taking part in the International Intellectual Property Law Moot 2013 (more information about the moot is available on its website).

The moot problem was argued under the law of imaginary country of Erewhon. Participants were expected to prepare an appeal against the first-instance judgment and argue the application and interpretation of law before the appellate court. The competition has two stages – participants have to prepare a written submission by December and then short-listed teams are invited for oral proceedings in Oxford in March.

The particular branch of IP law is rotated every year. This year the problem was built around trade mark law and passing off. The problem explored the limits of trade mark and passing off protection available for a producer of original drug when a patent for that drug expires and generic versions come around. Or to approach the same issue from the other side – to what extent competitors are allowed to copy the get-up of the original drug and market it using comparative advertising?

The moot is international – this year teams from 9 different countries (including the UK) took part in the competition. International participation is encouraged – according to the rules of the moot no national law is binding, participants are allowed to rely on authorities from any jurisdiction. The only binding law is the TRIPS Agreement and the Paris Convention.

On the other hand, the problem was drafted in a way favourable to the teams from the EU and common law jurisdictions. Part of the problem was argued under provisions very closely resembling EU Trade Marks Directive and Regulation. Another part was concerned with the passing off claim which is usually not available in civil law countries. For this reason it was especially pleasant to meet at the moot the team from the Goethe University Frankfurt. The German team deservedly left Oxford with the Professor David Vaver Spirit of the Moot Award.

The moot lasted for 3 days (14-16 March, Thursday to Saturday). Thursday and Friday were devoted to preliminary rounds – each team had two rounds per day arguing for the appellant and for the respondent. Based on the results 8 teams were shortlisted for the final rounds which were held on the last day of the moot. The teams which did not make it to the finals were able to have a proper night's rest (or engage in other proper nightly activities) and enjoy Saturday morning in Oxford in peace. The less lucky teams which survived preliminary rounds proceeded to the finals on Saturday.

The moot culminated in the Grand Finale where the teams from the University of Ottawa and National Law University, Delhi faced each other in front of the bench comprised of Kitchin LJ, Mummery LJ and Floyd J. After an hour long battle of wit and knowledge the team from Ottawa emerged victorious.

However, the moot was not focused on winning and losing. It was also an opportunity for IP enthusiasts from different countries to meet, chat and enjoy the company of each other. This was especially apparent at the Grand Finale which went in an atmosphere of cheerfulness and mutual respect that are sometimes lacking in the real appellate courts. The teams and judges were able to transform the discussion about the dry points of law into a good-humoured performance much to the pleasure of the audience.

This skill is perhaps worthy of learning. One of the reasons for many problems in intellectual property law is the lack of interest in it on the part of non-lawyers. People tend to dismiss intellectual property as something too unearthly and complicated until they receive complaints about illegal music downloads or see the difference in price between branded and no-name goods. Politicians are often too busy for intellectual property legislation and are prone to give their attention to a more pressing agenda dictated by the economic crisis or social unrest. It is sometimes overlooked that intellectual property is connected to both of these issues.

It falls to IP enthusiasts to popularise intellectual property law. The moot did a great deal in teaching students how to present IP issues in a straightforward, clear and catchy way.

It seems appropriate at this point to express gratitude to the Oxford Intellectual Property Research Centre for organising the moot and especially to Mummery LJ who has been judging the final rounds for many years. This was the last moot judged by Mummery LJ, since His Lordship is retiring this year.

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