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By Law Institute Journal

Continuing Legal Education Opinions 


This month’s books cover intellectual property, the Commonwealth Constitution, Elliot Perlman’s recent novel, and directors’ duties.

A History of Intellectual Property in 50 Objects book cover

A History of Intellectual Property in 50 Objects

Claudy Op den Kamp and Dan Hunter (eds), Cambridge University Press, 2019, hb $50

The Mona Lisa, the light bulb, the Lego brick and close to every lawyer’s heart, the hard working Post-it note. What do these objects have in common? A History of Intellectual Property in 50 Objects answers this question through contributions from authors from the fields of law, history, media studies, science and sociology.

Not just for IP specialists, this book has broad appeal for lawyers and the curious general reader. Trivia buffs will also enjoy the gems in its pages – did you know the creator of the Barbie doll was a mother of two children named Barbara and Ken? By delving into the history of 50 objects spanning the 12th century to modern day across the arts, sciences, fashion, technology and industry, this book demonstrates the importance of the IP system and how it has impacted and been impacted by human creativity throughout history. 

The book is informative and engaging with Op den Kamp’s own chapter taking the form of a letter. Each object is dedicated around eight pages with further reading references. The book can be enjoyed chronologically. However, the reader may engage within a discrete “age”, or follow one IP regime or theme such as music, technology or women’s history. In a short sitting, the visual appeal of the book quickly draws the casual reader into any one of the 50 objects.

The editors intended to create a crossover project between an academic publication and a coffee table book. They have achieved that purpose superbly. 

Louise Brunero, senior associate, Solubility

The Constitution and Government of Australia, 1788 to 1919 book cover

The Constitution and Government of Australia, 1788 to 1919

William Pitt Cobbett, Anne Twomey (ed), The Federation Press, 2019, hb $125

This elegant volume is a real blast from the past. Cobbett (1853–1919) was the first professor of law at the University of Sydney (appointed 1890). This was his magnum opus, left unpublished at his death but brought gloriously to life by Professor Anne Twomey and her assistants at Sydney Law School a century later.

Cobbett died on the last sitting day of Sir Samuel Griffith CJ and there is a logic to stopping at this point, before the constitutional landscape was so thoroughly transformed by the Engineers’ case in 1920. Ironically Cobbett opposed acceptance of the Commonwealth Constitution due to the federal aspect trumping responsible government.

It was Cobbett’s fervent wish that his work be published, but in the aftermath of his death, it was thought to have become outdated, especially by the Engineers’ case. Now, as we mark the centenary of Engineers, it is fascinating to open the time capsule and read the views of a distinguished legal scholar on the Constitution as it stood in 1919. As cases like Spence chip away at the immense floodgates of Engineers, perhaps it is time to revisit Cobbett and see a way forward to a truly federal Australia.

The book begins with a 30-page analytical summary by Twomey and it is possible that this would have sufficed, as a journal article, to alert interested readers to Cobbett’s views. It would take a hard core constitutional enthusiast to read the whole thing, but Twomey’s team have enabled those who wish to do so.

Dr Matthew Harvey, Victoria Law School

Maybe the Horse Will Talk  book cover

Maybe the Horse Will Talk

Elliot Perlman, Vintage Books 2019, pb $33

Fearing he is about to be culled as a second-year lawyer with the prestigious law firm Freely Savage Carter Blanche, Stephen Maserov takes a gamble and corners the firm’s biggest client in the lift. Having no experience in sexual harassment cases is the least of Maserov’s worries as he tells the head of a major construction company that if he is seconded to the company for 12 months, he will solve the string of sexual harassment cases it faces. 

Describing his predicament, he has promised the near impossible. Like a court jester saving his skin by promising the king he will teach the king’s horse to talk.

Maservov is buying time. He is terrified of losing a job he hates but his marriage is on the rocks, he has made an enemy of the most feared partner in the firm, “Crispy” Hamilton, and he is on the verge of becoming eligible to join the Freely Savage Survivors, the support group for former lawyers of the firm helping them recover from the trauma of having worked there.

Maserov joins forces with an unlikely alliance - Jessica from HR, one of the complainants, and AA Begta, the chairman of the Freely Savage Survivors, the lawyer for the complainants and someone whose tactics can only be described as unorthodox. Maserov is in a sticky ethical, professional and personal situation.

Funny, contemporary and clever, the story will bring a smile to the face of anyone who has worked in the law.

Jamie Bolic, general counsel, Golden Age Group

Company Directors’ Duties and Conflicts of Interest  book cover

Company Directors’ Duties and Conflicts of Interest 

Rosemary Langford, Oxford University Press, 2019, hb

The effects of the banking Royal Commission have been felt as far afield as the UK, judging by the comments in this detailed guide on the law of directors’ duties and conflicts. This is a predominantly UK text, with reference made to several common law jurisdictions, including Australia. The exercise of powers for the benefit of others creates an obvious potential for the abuse of power and how the legal systems of the UK and elsewhere handle this forms the subject matter of much of this text. 

This text is somewhat imposing – plain cover, more than 400 pages of fine print dealing with corporate law. However, the author has used headings and footnotes sensibly to create a textbook which is straightforward. The text commences with an examination of what constitutes conflict and how it has arisen in the corporate context from the origins of fiduciary duties which directors owe to their companies. It then examines who directors are and how far duties extend beyond formally appointed directors, such as shadow and de facto directors. 

There is an entire chapter dedicated to the “conflicts and profits” rule with reference to the fiduciary nature of the duties falling within those rules, as well as chapters dealing with the problems which emerge for directors who hold office in multiple companies, the taking of corporate opportunities, and the rules relating to disclosure and declarations of interest. The consequences of breaches of duty are set out in detail. 

If the text has a relevance weakness, it is that the basic legislative structure relied on is the UK Companies Act 2006. The author ameliorates this by including case law from elsewhere, including Australia, and including sections which speak of different legislative frameworks. It is a detailed treatment with application beyond our own borders but not irrelevant to directors of Australian companies. 

Mark Worsnop, Kahns Lawyers

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