In Memory of Professor William Cornish (1937-2022)

William Cornish Headshot
Photo from University of Cambridge Website

Sir Robin Jacob is the Sir Hugh Laddie Chair of Intellectual Property Law at University College London (UCL) and a former judge of the Court of Appeal for England and Wales. The following tribute will be published on the University of Cambridge website and has been reproduced on the IPilogue with Sir Jacob’s permission.

Chambers is sad to announce the death of Professor William Cornish. Sir Robin Jacob recalls one of chambers “greatest sons”:

Bill Cornish was a junior lecturer at LSE from 1962 to 1968. He did a lot there, including teaching a class of evening students which included a brilliant patent agent, Richard Lloyd and me, a Bar student. He taught for three years out of the four-year course:  contract, trusts and industrial relations. He did not just teach me the law – he taught me to think like a lawyer. But for him I doubt I would have been much good. He was top of the Bar Finals in 1965 (Wikipedia says he was called by Lincoln’s Inn, but we wasn’t.  It was Gray’s – I should know since I supported the move which had him made an Honorary Bencher).  Wondering what important and interesting topic to run with, he was, I think, much influenced by Richard Lloyd. Public credit is given to Otto Kahn-Freud, a great LSE professor. At all events Bill decided that IP mattered and he could do something with it. He became Thomas Blanco White’s pupil (in what was Francis Taylor Building and is now 8 New Square) for the year 1966-7.  I followed him next year as a pupil in FTB, not to Thomas Blanco but to Anthony Walton.  Bill did not fancy practice and set about creating an LIM IP course at the LSE – the first UK university to do such a thing. It started in 1967. In 1968 he went both to the Max Planck Institute in Munich and Queen Mary (as a reader).  He quickly learnt German, made many friends and developed his pan-national perspective of IP law. He popped back every now and then but left a lot of the teaching of the new course to Richard Lloyd and some to me – looking back that was a sign of great trust, at the time it was a lot of work but forced me to get on top of IP.

Bill came back to LSE in 1970. He consolidated the position of LSE as the top Law School for IP besides doing so many other things. The first edition of his great work on IP, Intellectual Property: Patents, Copyright, Trade Marks and Allied Rights first appeared in 1980, written single-handed. It has run into lots of editions since.

Bill’s association with FTB/8NS was unswerving. I can’t remember when he became a door tenant though I can remember that he was the first! About 1973 I would guess.

Bill was poached by Queen Mary when the Herschel Smith foundation endowed a Chair of IP. Cambridge poached him from there! And at Cambridge he set up the Centre for European Legal Studies.

From what I have written so far one might get the idea that Bill was a bit of a one-track IP man. But far from it. He touched many branches of the law, staring with a book about the Jury in 1968. His main interest was actual legal history. He was a major contributor to the Oxford History of the Laws of England and was the main author of Law and Society in England 1750-1950. He was a gifted pianist and above all a warm, funny, modest and gentle man.

The world of IP has lost a giant.  I will miss him greatly

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