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This biography is based on interviews with Professor Cornish during January to May 2015, and on notes that he provided to supplement the oral material. It is primarily a chronological account of the highlights of his career. Observations on the context and content of his scholarly works will appear elsewhere.

Additional Material: Conversations with Professor Bill Cornish: legal history in context, and defining elusive concepts as intellectual property

Early years and a first taste of Europe

William Rodoph Cornish was born in Adelaide, South Australia in 1937, two years before the outbreak of the Second World War. His earliest years were, consequently, framed by the relative deprivations of a country at war, and the insularity of a state in a remote, albeit emerging, nation.  In the 21st century, notions of "The Empire" seem outmoded and reactionary, but during the 1940-50s they were still powerful concepts whose historical circumstances need to be appreciated to understand the society in which Bill grew up and received his schooling and early university training. Their impression upon Bill Cornish certainly engendered a sense of social remoteness, and the importance of context in framing historical events, particularly legal innovations.

Bill's father was a "youngish, poorly paid solicitor" in Adelaide, and he and Bill's mother were making their way after "the worst of the Great Depression" when Bill was born and war loomed. Although his father's occupation was not a consideration in his own choice of law at university, the singular circumstances of the establishment of South Australia fascinated Bill because his father's relative poverty was a direct result of the colony's early history. So much so that Professor Cornish provided the ESA with a fascinating account of the state's founding in 1836 and how land law and property transfer were important factors in its early financial viability [1]. These culminated in the mid-19th century (1836-56) with the Torrens title of land system [2] that effectively took the lucrative trade away from lawyers (both solicitors and barristers) by creating a professional body of land agents. The latter's shorter period of training and lower fees, ultimately deprived the legal profession of a major source of income, and "much reduced in its  size and importance the eastern colonies of Australia".  Hence Mr Cornish's relatively low income in South Australia in the 1930-40s, a situation that had remained unchanged in the second half of the 1950s. Understanding the social context within which important legal innovations occur is a crucial factor in legal history, and it was a lesson that Bill learnt to appreciate and understand relatively early in his career.

A further topic with which he was greatly interested, because of personal circumstances, was the church's role in the creation of moral ideas and their inculcation into the social fabric of the fledgling state. The church was pivotal in establishing both the secondary school Bill attended in Adelaide,  St Peter's College [3] (in 1847), whose headmasters were ordained priests until the end of the war, and the liberal concepts displayed in the founding of  the University of Adelaide [4] (1874). Tied up with this, and setting South Australia apart within The Empire, was the disestablishment of the Church of England in 1851.

All these factors distinguished  South Australia from the other Australian colonies - New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania - which had "been founded to solve the problem of transporting serious offenders from Britain, including Ireland, instead of executing them.  South Australia was the only colony in Australia which was entirely a free settlement. It was brought about  in the 1830s, very significantly I think, because by then [there was] the idea that the Empire could be a large and continuing block of power in world terms......  A group of liberal thinkers, somewhat radical, much influenced in general terms by Jeremy Bentham[5] and his theory of utility  for determining all political, economic and legal questions of significance, had got quite a grip on the public imagination ......and some of them had got into significant positions on royal commissions or Parliamentary committees or as civil servants." [6]

These features all combined to create the liberal "quiet...placid kind of place, without  grave social distinctions" that was the South Australia in which Professor Bill Cornish spent  his childhood. South Australians felt remote, and were interested "only in the concerns of the colony, not the whole of Australia, where competition was in the air." This was epitomised by the growth of "increasingly assertive trade unions in  Sydney and Melbourne, [which]were a new cause for unrest. Adelaide however was a placid, rather complacent community." [7]

The Second World War itself had little effect on the Cornish household. However, when Bill started at Saints in 1945, at the age of eight, the running of the school "became increasingly hard" because of the shortage of trained teachers. Society had suffered " huge losses", and "all the fractured personalities who came back out of the Japanese prisoners' camps [was] beyond belief". Luckily, the school had acquired a headmaster (Colin Gordon) who was determined to broaden the boys' understanding of the world, and despite missing out on a good grounding in music (one of Professor Cornish's loves), he acquired a decent education in English Literature, Latin, French, Maths, Divinity, Physics, Chemistry, History and Geography, and of course, sport. The latter amounted to cricket, rowing, tennis, and Australian Rules football.

At this point, with the prospect of a final year at school looming, Bill, with the backing of the forward-thinking headmaster, and the encouragement of his mother, took what was then (1955) the very enlightened step of a gap-year in Europe. The experience changed his life. It made Bill realise "how cut off we were.  Few newspapers had anything much other than idle gossip and amusement in them.   Radio facilities were somewhat better because there was a Federal government institution, the Australian Broadcasting Commission....[but] cut off we undoubtedly were."  In his conversation relating to the gap-year, Professor Cornish emphasised that " It is important to give an impression of this because, partly through going overseas before university study, I did acquire a very strong will to see European countries for myself and to acquire some understanding of their peacetime resurgence." [8] It was a turning point in his education.

This was an era when there were not "the kind of modern fears that there are now about children being let out on their own" and Bill travelled by ship to Tilbury. His arrival by train into a ravaged London at Liverpool Street was the first "big shock....[Even] in 1955 it was still just bomb devastation wherever you looked. The whole of the East End appeared to be a hell-hole in which human existence was scarcely imaginable." This was a far cry from Adelaide.

Luckily, Mr Gordon had contacts with the founder of Toc H (the First World War service-mans' benevolent society), the flambouyant and charismatic Reverend Tubby Clayton [9] whose organisation was now addressing the needs of Second World War veterans. Since "Tubby" was Vicar of  All Hallows-by- the-Tower his office and living quarters were next to a Toc H house on Tower Hill church. He liked to have one or two young men living there as ADCs of which I was to be one. We would organize parts of his day…. Equally when he went out of London to visit Toc H branches, close friends and people with influence, the practical elements of the journeys would fall to us. In my time we went as far as Lands End and north to the Orkney Islands… Tower Hill was a remarkably interesting place to have as headquarters. Tubby's great pre-occupation during my time with him was to restore All Hallows from its devastating bombing in 1943. Dedicated to Toc H. he called on its members, in the Empire as in Britain, to provide the means to achieve its re-building.

Bill Cornish was greatly influenced by the humanity of Tubby Clayton: "He didn't think in class terms and he was very careful to keep his visiting going to those who might have power and influence over what happened to the TOC H movement.  So, we did meet grand people who lived on Hyde Park and all that, but he would go anywhere and talk to anybody about their problems, so I learnt a lot about humanity and how you manage it with skill, whilst still being, in his case, a very prominent personality." [10]. Also, through Tubby Clayton, Bill met several young American volunteers [11] with whom he paid a five day visit to the University of Oxford and made a moving pilgrimage to the First World War cemeteries of Flanders.

Finally, before returning home on the battered P&O liner Strathnaver, Bill made a bicycle tour, on his own, across northern France through Normandy and up the Seine. Sleeping in his little tent, and then staying with a French family, it was a further liberating experience which gave him "the smell of old France, because they smoked the most fumous black tobacco ..... they were pretty poor still, many of them." Also, "It was just so sad to see Paris in ruined condition".

On his return to Australia, Bill Cornish had little "idea about what I wanted to do at university" and "in the end I just slipped into doing a law degree". Some of his teachers were inspiring, such as the ex-Rhodes Scholar, Professor Dick Blackburn [12], a "New Zealand Catholic" Daniel Patrick O'Connell [13], and the charismatic Roman Lawyer Leo Blair [14]. In contrast, in the more practical subjects, local practitioners were drafted in from the small Adelaide legal community. The worst of these "just came and read out somebody else's notes ....That's how we learnt land law."

For Bill, the compensation seems to have been the presence of Leo Blair, "A delightful man, whose family had already returned to England, he had time to join the not infrequent parties of our year group, one of whose fathers, a White Russian, ran a distillery  – a good time had by all! [15]

Bill's gap-year had instilled a love of things British and European, and once he had completed his LLB in 1960, was a major factor in his decision to leave Australia. While "most of my group only thought of where to go into practice in Australian terms, a few of us had broader ambitions.  I really couldn't wait to get to a better law school, closer to centres of change in  legal education." The problem he had to overcome was financial, but fate smiled on Bill when, "By incredible luck, I was in the first year of the British Commonwealth scholarship scheme which was being started between .....the Dominions and Britain, and I did get one of the scholarships.  This was a huge expansion. shows how remote and primitive much of our studies had been, comparatively speaking."  This was the chance he had craved - "the chance to go to Oxford and do the BCL degree [Bachelor of Civil Law], which, as my tutor [16] there described it , was the best law degree in the world."

To the London School of Economics via Oxford

Bill Cornish arrived back in Oxford in the autumn of 1960. It was wet and cold, but at least he knew what he was in for. He found the adjustment easy and said during the interview that he had been "longing to get back to see what had happened to the country in four years - how much had been repaired in the late fifties, bringing it back to something more like the civilisation it had been. They were exciting years the sixties."

For students such as Bill, who had not done their undergraduate degree at Oxford, the BCL was then a two year course. He reveled in his cohort of highly-committed students who produced a competitive atmosphere, in contrast to the Adelaide environment in which only a handful had been "struggling to do something serious academically". Also, there were the "great teachers" with which he came into contact. This milieu made for an "exciting", "really stimulating experience", and when the end of Bill's second year approached (1962), he "started to look around....[to see] how I could stay in Europe." He realised that one route would be to take his Bar exams and practice, and he planned to do this as soon as practical.

LSE (1962-68 & 1970-90)

As far as Professor Cornish's  career was concerned, "that's where I really got going."  His appointment in 1962 as assistant lecturer at LSE was the start of a happy association in which he was to spend twenty eight of the next thirty years of his career, and it saw him establish himself as an international authority in several fields. In retrospect, three important factors stand out from Professor Cornish's association with the LSE which became hall-marks of his legal scholarship: his interaction with Kahn-Freund (leading to Bill's pre-eminent position in the field of intellectual property law);  the general socially-orientated mileau prevailing at LSE, which became a guiding star in Bill's viewing of the contexts in which important legal innovations occur; and finally his outward looking attitude towards trans-European topics. Professor Cornish summed up these traits when I asked him to reflect on his lengthy spell at LSE: "Almost from the beginning at the LSE I became interested in the promotion of new subjects which weren't known in law schools.  The LSE being more generally tending in that direction was a leading establishment where new ideas were being tried out; new lines of publication were coming to the fore." [17]

Intellectual property law. The Kahn-Freund relationship formally lasted only two years, because the "very grand friend, a great human" left to take up a chair at Oxford in 1964, but this was not before he had propelled Bill towards one of his life's great achievements. To meet what he (Kahn-Freund) had perceived as a field of great legal potential that in Britain was barely tapped, he persuaded Bill to become involved in topics of  law related to what is now known as  intellectual property. These had been (and remain) strong areas in the German legal tradition, and Kahn-Freund's roots were crucial in spotting this area as one that Professor Cornish referred to as a "fringe subject" that he (Kahn-Freund) was noted for encouraging in the special atmosphere prevailing at the LSE in the sixties. Through Kahn-Freund, Professor Cornish  became associated with the well-known patent lawyer Mr Blanco White, and this led to his undertaking  a pupillage with Blanco White, specialising on these issues as part of his studies for the Bar. Bill ultimately completed his qualifications in 1963 and was made a member at Gray's Inn.

Teaming up with two other young, like-minded lecturers, Robin Jacobs [18] and Richard Lloyd [19], Bill then begun to develop an LLM course on intellectual property law while still a lecturer at LSE. He continued to expand its scope during a brief interlude (1969-70) as Reader at Queen Mary College.  Eventually, the course blossomed into a major undergraduate commitment and research programme during Bill's second and illustrious tenure at LSE in the chair of English Law (1970-90).  Ultimately, his reputation in the field drew him to Cambridge, where he became the inaugural occupant of a chair dedicated to the subject. I shall revisit this whole area in another publication, but suffice to say that during the fruitful LSE years, Professor Bill Cornish produced the first and still standard text [20] on the subject that he has helped establish as a major topic in the UK, the EU and globally. His pioneering work was recognised by his being made a member of the British Academy in 1984.

Legal topics in social contexts. The atmosphere at LSE was both intellectually uplifting and socially challenging, and Bill found the environment stimulating. He engaged with many inspiring colleagues, and in our interview generously referred to the role these distinguished professors in his own legal development: professors John Griffith [21], Stanley de  Smith [22], Ash Wheatcroft [23], Jim Gower [24], Bill Wedderburn [25], Toby Milsom [26], and of course his mentor Otto Kahn-Freund.  

The sixties were a time of student dissent, and the LSE was foremost in the UK in such unrest. When Bill first arrived in 1962 as an assistant lecturer, undergraduate activity was relatively subdued, but there was a strong sense of social responsibility amongst the younger law fraternity. This was harnessed by Charles Clark [27], the young inspirational legal editor for Penguin books who began the "Law and Society" series, on which several of Bill Cornish's colleagues collaborated. This was a "new types of writing, more socially-conscious would be available at the level of a general readership". The series resulted in "fine works such as Harry Street's "Freedom of the Individual and the Law"[28], Borrie and Diamond's Consumer Law[29], Bill Wedderburn's, "The Worker and the Law"".

Bill Cornish's contribution to this project was his first book, The Jury, which appeared in 1968 [30]. His underlying hope had been to penetrate the "secret system. Judges instruct jurors in our courts without being present during their deliberations and nobody knows much about what happens. I thought I could conduct at least some preliminary enquiries in order to make a start on opening up the jury system to public inspection….. So, I set about various ways of trying to meet people who dealt with juries, judges in their court, counsel, and I was able to get the names of some who had served as jurors in London and arranged to interview them. Very interesting it was." [31] 

Professor Cornish was very frank during the interviews about the outcomes and ramifications of the research published in his book. Initially, he was "interested in the possibilities of bringing in the actual techniques of other social sciences. [Eventually], out of the jury book, [and in collaboration] with two social psychologists, we began to try to do replica experiments with groups of people who would function as if they were a jury. .....We got grants to do this.  It was nevertheless enormously time-consuming,.... [but] interesting stuff." But in the end, after publishing some articles on their results, criticisms and objections had "a certain force which made the work interesting rather than wholly convincing.....and in the end we all started going in different directions and doing different things, but I'm glad we did it." [32]

Professor Cornish planned a second volume for the Penguin Series, an ambitious survey of the law in relation to society in England during the period 1750-1950, which would contrast the two aspects before and after the beginning of the industrial revolution. This project arose from his friendship with a trade union lawyer Geoffrey Clark, who worked at Thompsons, "a left wing firm of solicitors" in The Temple, London [33]. Together, in the spirit of LSE, they planned to "attempt, in one volume, to give students, in particular, law students, some grasp of the history of the system they were studying before they went on to such subjects as comparative law or international law or legal philosophy and  many of them came  to law studies without any real sense of recent British history." [34]

This ambitious book was conceived in 1969, against a background of serious student unrest, for which LSE had by now gained a reputation. Professor Cornish gives an account of some of this activity in the late 60s, but noted that because of his sojourn to Queen Mary College for a Readership from autumn ‘69 to autumn ‘70, he avoided much of it. With his return to LSE as Professor in 1970, he continued work with Geoffrey Clark, but shortly after their signing the contract with Penguin to write the volume, Geoffrey unfortunately died of cancer. Despite this setback, Bill kept the project alive, but it took him twenty years to complete the manuscript on his own, and by that time the Penguin "Law and Society" concept had moved on, and he had to find a new publisher. When the book was finally published (in 1989) [35], Professor Cornish  emerged as a legal historian of authority, with a reputation for conflating legal notions with the social context in which such innovations had developed. It was a reputation to which Oxford University Press turned when they commissioned the volumes in their monumental Oxford History series dealing with the period 1820-1914 [36].

The student unrest at LSE , which in many ways reflected the socially-aware attitudes that had instructed much of Professor Cornish's thinking, was, according to him, responsible for his professorial appointment at LSE in 1970. He had spent only a short while at Queen Mary College in his Readership, and mused that "I'm not sure that Queen Mary College got real value out of me and this dodging about that went on.[37]

In this regard, he was very modest in his assessment of his achievement when asked about the circumstances of his appointment to the LSE chair: "Probably the main circumstances were that the LSE was in a terrible mess after its student insurgencies of 1968 – 69  and they couldn't, I think, find anybody who might have been my senior by 15-20 years, which would have been more appropriate.  There was a bit of a scramble around to find someone, frankly, and when I got there I was asked  if I'd like to be the Pro-Director of the School as a whole  - an invitation which I firmly refused.  The administration had been badly mauled in all the troubles with students and they were trying to rebuild their world renowned reputation as a School of the Social Sciences. This aim would advance with the appointment of Ralph Dahrendorf [38], the German politician and sociologist, as Director of the School. That really made a huge difference because he was an internationally-known figure who'd been in coalition governments in Germany as a liberal." [39]

For Professor Bill Cornish, the political and social ethos of the Faculty and student body at the LSE had played crucial roles in the development of his career and legal outlook.

A European view. Professor Bill Cornish acquired a European dimension to his outlook on life with his bold school-boy adventures in UK and Europe during 1955-56. It was a trait that was re-enforced during his time at LSE, and continued during his Cambridge years. He had long admired the German-Jewish émigrés who had so successfully merged their original civil law notions with their adopted common law concepts. In this group, Professor Cornish mentioned Hersch Lauterpacht and Kurt Lipstein at Cambridge, and especially the latter, who was outstanding  on the faculty here because he was the only one who believed in the European Community's British membership." His admiration for Professor Sir Otto Kahn-Freund at LSE has already been mentioned.

These outward views made Professor Cornish keen to develop his understanding of the civil law system, and he pursued this ambition while he was finishing his BCL at Oxford (1961-‘62) by attending three week sessions over Easter in rival institutes in Luxembourg and Strasbourg which taught civil law in the French language. It was a fruitful and enjoyable contact with other traditions.       

Professor Cornish's European attachments ultimately divided into two strands. The first was a natural extension of his involvement with intellectual property law. As previously mentioned, German institutions had been strong advocates of this area of law since before the Second World War, and even today they regard "themselves as the leaders of Europe in this".[40] In 1966 the main centre for research in this field in Germany became the Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Patent, Copyright and Competition Law [41] in Munich, and in 1978, while researching his intellectual property text book, Professor Cornish paid his first visit to this intellectual mecca. Over the years he has since paid many visits to the Max Planck, and eventually was elected a Senior Foreign Member (a singular honour), having learned German to better cope with the technical details and to aid his understanding. This has also stood him in good stead for getting to grips with the  attempts by the EU to legislate in this field, where there are so many clashes of national temperament.

A second strand was his direct involvement with the teaching of European legal issues. On arrival at Cambridge in 1990, Professor Cornish took on the role of Director of the Centre for European Legal Studies (CELS). Although he held this position only until the arrival of Alan Dashwood [42] in 1995, his tenure had coincided with the momentous collapse of the Soviet Union, and the dramatic political upheavals in Eastern Europe that flowed therefrom.  Close involvement with Cambridge's Eurocentric activities brought Professor Cornish into contact with Judge George Dobry [43], and together, in 1992, they founded the Centre for English and European Legal Studies at Warsaw University [44]. This was originally to fill a niche for East European students eager to learn the ways of the common law and the legal regime of the European Community. It was, and remained, a cause very close to Professor Cornish's heart.

"The course was taught in English at all times with lecturers from here [Cambridge] and some other British universities, and by a staff of tutors whom we kept in Warsaw and were therefore able to give British university-style law courses in which it wasn't just lectures but it was larger or smaller classes; everything from four members to 16…" [45]

The venture was a great success, and after a few years student numbers reached two hundred for the two year course, which was given recognition by Cambridge University with the granting of a diploma to successful students. The range of legal personalities that their moot competitions attracted was "heart stretching because the judges, mostly ....[were] young European lawyers from the Commission or the European Court of Justice.." as well as some English professors and leading legal figures (such as Gordon Slynn of Hadley [46], and later Eleanor Sharpston [47]).

In recent times, much to Professor Cornish's disappointment, Cambridge University has withdrawn its formal recognition of the course, partly on the technical grounds that students "did not come to this [Cambridge] residential university in person." Because the course had been so successful for twenty three years, Professor Cornish was aggrieved by this, and his disappointment came across in our interview: "we felt genuinely grieved by this.  We felt we had achieved so much ......we felt we were hard done by people who refused to understand us. We have, however, survived without the Cambridge diploma..." [48]. Despite these setbacks, he has been buoyed by the continued support of some Cambridge Law Faculty academics such as Jennifer Davis[49], Richard Fentiman [50], and Jonathan Morgan [51].

Cambridge and retirement

Professor Cornish had been at the LSE for over twenty years, when he was approached to apply for a personal chair at Cambridge then held by Professor Toby Milsom [52], who was soon to retire. Although Milsom was a legal historian, his chair was technically Professor of Law, so when Bill Cornish agreed to move, he did so to ".. what was then called the 1973 Professorship because that's how Cambridge labelled things that they couldn't label in other ways.  It had been first held, one suspects, or been created for, Professor Kurt Lipstein [in 1973]". [53]

He found life different to that at LSE. "there had to be some adjustments of course because there were from my start here other people  – great names – teaching what I also taught in London and I just had to fit into that system.  As a professor of the University then I was very restricted in the number of hours you had to teach – 16 a year I think was still the figure, amazingly. Of course people were going well over that formal limit depending on what their interests were and the courses that they wanted to run, but for professors it was less intensive teaching contact at post-graduate level than in London." [54]

Also, he had to adjust to the shorter terms, " the terms are only for eight weeks. So, two things about that.  I became the Director of the LLM immediately because it wasn't a large  job. We were then choosing from hundreds of applications the best 120-150 students each year.  The other thing I immediately did was to become the first Director of the Center for European Legal Studies."[55]

Professor Cornish occupied this chair from 1990 to 1995, during time which he was the first Director of CELS, and also began his work with the Warsaw law group. His association with CELS was partly driven by a realisation that " there remained a sceptical attitude amongst the public law scholars here towards membership of the EU, even 20 years after Britain had become an EC member in 1973.  So I said "yes", I'd do it to get it launched and we did have such an event as in 1991:  a visit from the Legal Affairs Committee of the European Parliament.  They rather liked visiting attractive towns throughout the EC as it then was, and they were an acceptable body to invite and our best international and European lawyers who have since become very distinguished, spoke to them and they reacted to it and it seemed to be a good occasion.  It ended up with a grand party in the Senate House celebrating the establishment of CELS so they were done proud." [56]

During this time he was also Chairman of the National Academies Policy Action Group, Working Party on Intellectual Property(NAPAG: 1993-94), a reflection of his eminent position within the pantheon of practitioners of intellectual property rights, where his 1980 book still held sway (it was by then in its second edition - 1986). During these five years, he also brought out the first edition of a companion volume to Intellectual Property in the form of a reference and abstract textbook for cases dealing with intellectual property issues: Cases and Materials on Intellectual Property, 1990.

Those early years of his Cambridge professorship had coincided with the removal of the Faculty and the Squire Law Library from their various cramped quarters in the city centre to Sir Norman Foster's glass complex on the present West Road site. I asked Professor Cornish if he had played any role in the mammoth task of organising this move. "Professor Tiley[57] was the member of the faculty who was the Chair in my early years.  For a while Professor Milsom and Baker and then Professor Tiley took over and it was he who was good at giving drive to getting to the final stages of the plans, hoping that all was all right but as everybody knows there was a famous row over noise within the [new] building penetrating into all parts of the library and he was one of those who had to deal with this.  Professor Spencer [58], who succeeded him, was even more determined not to let the architect and acoustic engineers  get away with their view that noise only travelled sideways. Eventually a glass wall had to be inserted into the building and those deepest in the Senate House might be able to tell you, if they were ever ready to do so, who exactly paid for this wall. So, the building was an interesting new move.  It's a pity in many ways that we couldn't have had the university's Administration move out of the centre of Cambridge and more specifically the Old Schools, so that we could have the whole of it instead of just having the law library, which was part of it, but the deal was sold to Caius College..." [59]

In the meantime, in 1993, the University had been given US$ 2m by the American Friends of Cambridge University for the endowment of the Herchel Smith Professorship of Intellectual Property Law [60], and in 1995 William R. Cornish became its inaugural occupant. During our interview Professor Cornish outlined the circumstances which had led to this generous donation, and explained how these epitomised some of the problems that inventors and creators of intellectual property encounter.

"We are in a difficult world in which the intellectual property owners have been put on trial, and have often been slow to adapt  in some way that gives a technique for capturing this material. At the same time there have been very greedy people around trying to capture huge territories of information, much of it to do with the genetic character of human beings as well as for the genetic make-up of plants and animals, where there have been people at the beginning of science turning into innovation,  who have been only too ready to grab large areas of the science and say it is theirs uniquely and anybody who makes the same thing or makes things from it must pay a licence fee to do so, or may be stopped."

"Herchel Smith [61]… was such an inventor.  He invented mainly in Cambridge.......[after] being a student of Lord Todd [62], a medical, chemical scholar of great distinction.  Herchel discovered the crucial structure of the oral contraceptive – he didn't actually find the final product,  but he found the combination beforehand – and out of that he personally made a great deal of money from the patents that he got on it.  So rich, but so decent, that the many millions that he made in conjunction with the American pharmaceutical company John Wyeth [63], led him to bestow huge endowments of chairs and other posts in  research schools, both in the United States – notably at Harvard and  also in this country. 

"But that was not his only interest. Another of his areas of benefice concerned  the patent system, protecting inventions such as he had done so well out of and in the end he gave Cambridge University the largest grant from an individual person it had ever received – worth in all some  40 million pounds.  In the late 1990s when things did go up and down, particularly in relation to digitization – 1998 was the collapsing year of NASDAQ – and he devoted his  wealth to these good educational purposes.  He was drawn into giving some of his endowments to the study and teaching of intellectual property as well as to direct scientific discovery. Those who acted for him in patent matters were accordingly keen that that should  happen, as well as straight science, by these gifts and, as I understand it, it's been money well-placed and it includes my subject."[64]

During his tenure of the Herchel Smith chair, Professor Cornish brought out three further editions of his Intellectual Property: Patents, Copyright, Trade Marks and Allied Rights: 1996 (3rd), 1999 (4th) and 2003 (5th). This gives some indication of the speed with which the subject was developing. All these were authored by himself, but the work load was becoming more arduous, so that the three further editions produced since his retirement in 2004 (2007, 6th; 2010, 7th; and 2013, 8th) have been collaborative efforts with David Llewelyn [65] and later,Tanya Aplin [66]. He also brought out three further editions of his Cases and Materials: 1996 (2nd), 1999 (3rd) and 2003 (4th), with a further edition since retirement (2006).

This is a remarkable record in a fast moving field, and was all the more so when one realises that on his arrival at Cambridge in 1990, he had given an undertaking to Professor John Baker that he would assemble a team of colleagues to compile volumes covering the period 1820-1914 for the Oxford History of the Laws of England series that Professor Baker had been handling for many years.

Professor Cornish's contribution to the Laws of England project did not come to fruition until 2010 (well after he had retired in 2004), and amounted to nearly 3000 pages. The work had been ongoing for twenty years and its organisation very time consuming. I asked Professor Cornish how he had managed the logistics, and he emphasised that, given the length of the project, his collaborators had to make decisions about "... how much would anybody, who became an author, lose chances to write lesser stuff for what was the research exercise in the early days, and has since become a framework. I lost one very good contributor through that, but beyond that, it was a matter of personal appreciation of who had emerged as the leading, modern legal historians and then thereby hangs a tale of a kind about my firstborn "Law and Society" book.  There was so much that could have gone into that and didn't.  Hackney [67] pointed out religion; quite right. Although the book sold very few copies in the early years because nobody had courses on the subject and only gradually at the teaching level did it spread.  I'd been able to do that at the LSE whilst I was still there and when I came to Cambridge we tried to do the same thing.

[M]ost of [my collaborators] trained as historians as well as lawyers.... and it couldn't have been done without [them]: Stuart Anderson [68], ... Michael Lobban [69]...., Ray Cocks [70]....., Patrick Polden [71], a great expert of the legal system of the English court system, and Keith Smith [72] on the criminal law, but did other bits in the book as well.  So, together we pushed each other into a sort of position and we held regular meetings and discussed what can be discussed in those sorts of circumstances, but essentially it was left for each person to write his own chapter. 

I had an oversight, and I had to do a bit of pushing to get people into roughly the same style, but not seriously as far as starting points were concerned.  These were all people who wanted the history to be expressed and stated, not people who wanted to use it as a tool for political criticism. The class structure and so forth determined everything - it didn't tell you much. We knew we would all think along the same sorts of line because we'd already all written history of this kind in a period ...of 20 years." [73]

On the Oxford History project as a whole, Professor Cornish commented: "It's tremendously hard work because of the condensation you have to apply after you've discovered everything you can and all the volumes up to our period, which starts in 1820 and ends with the beginning of the First World War, before that each volume has only one author; periods of 60 to 100 years, depending on what was happening, and it's not surprising that some people have become ill and unable to finish; periods go blank because it's too daunting a task to do a single job in a long period unless you've been working at that period for 30, 40 years."[74]

Honours that came to Professor Bill Cornish in his Cambridge years included an Honorary Fellowship of the London School of Economics in 1997: "that follows on from my being there for nearly 30 years and I may say having become quite a substantial academic administrator there:  I was Vice-Chairman of the Academic Board, and then Vice-Chairman of the Appointments Committee, both of them key bodies in the democratic organization of the School. " He was also made an Honorary Queen's Council the same year, and in 1998, a Bencher at Gray's Inn.

In 2013 Professor Cornish was awarded the Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George. He remembers this well for the presentation by the "Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace."… "That was specifically for my work in Poland and elsewhere because it is the order that is really the charge of the Foreign Office, and goes to those who help support worthwhile endeavours of the British government work in other countries." There is a photograph in the gallery showing Professor Cornish wearing his decoration.

Professor Cornish continued to live in Cambridge with his wife, Lovedy, and was frequently seen in the Faculty. He was invariably gracious and friendly, and it was a great pleasure to interview this versatile and disarming scholar for the Archive.


[1] See Questions 3-6 of the first interview.

[2] Initiated by Sir Robert Richard Torrens (1814-1884), third Premier of South Australia

[3]  By Augustus Short (1802-1883), Bishop of Adelaide (1847-1882).

[4] Also by Bishop Short, who was the first Vice-Chancellor (1876-1882). Teaching started in 1876.

[5] Jeremy Bentham, (1748-1832). Legal and moral philosopher in England.

[6] Q.3

[7] Q. 9

[8] Q. 10

[9] Reverend Philip Thomas Byard ("Tubby") Clayton (1885-1972), Australian-born Anglican clergyman.  As Army Chaplain, he had established rest centres for soldiers in WWI, Talbot House (= Toc H), in the Ypres Salient during 1915.

[10] Q. 24

[11] So-called "Winant Volunteers", after John Gilbert Winant, OM (1889-1947), US Ambassador to UK (1941-46).

[12] Sir Richard Arthur (Dick) Blackburn, (1918-1987), Bonython Professor of Law, University of Adelaide (1950-57), judge of Federal (1977-82) and Supreme (1982-85) Courts of Australia.

[13] Daniel Patrick O'Connell,  (1924-1979),  Chichele Professor of Public International Law, All Souls College, Oxford (1972-79), New Zealand barrister.

[14]   Leo Charles Lynton Blair, (born Charles Leonard Augustus Parsons) (1923-2012), barrister, lecturer at Durham University. He was temporarily out in Australia with his family, including the future British Labour Party Prime Minister Tony.

[15] Q. 34

[16] Peter Basil Carter, (1921-2004), Fellow and Tutor in Law at Wadham College, Oxford. Awarded Croix de Guerre with silver star by France for actions in Normandy.

[17] Q. 78

[18] Sir Robert Raphael Hayim "Robin" Jacob, (1941-), Lord Justice in the Court of Appeal of England and Wales (2003-11), Sir Hugh Laddie Professor in intellectual property, University College London (2011-).

[19] Patent attorney and manager at Hewlett-Packard, France.

[20] Intellectual Property: Patents, Copyright, Trademarks and Allied Rights, 1st Edition 1981, 8th Edit. 2013. Sweet & Maxwell.

[21] John Aneurin Grey Griffith,  (1918-2010), Professor of English Law (1959-70) and Professor of Public Law (1970-1984) at LSE.

[22] Stanley Alexander De Smith, (1922-1974). Downing Professor of the Laws of England (1970-74).

[23] George Shorrock Ashcombe "Ash" Wheatcroft, (1905-1987), Professor of English Law, LSE (1959-68).

[24] Laurence Cecil Bartlett "Jim" Gower, (1913-1997) MBE, Professor and Dean of the Faculty of Law, University of Lagos (1962-65), Vice Chancellor of the University of Southampton (1971-79).

[25] Kenneth William Wedderburn, (1927-2012). Baron Wedderburn of Charlton, Labour politician, lecturer in law at Cambridge, later Cassell Professor of Commercial Law, London School of Economics.

[26] Stroud Francis Charles (Toby) Milsom, (1923- ). Professor of Law Cambridge (1976-90).

[27] Charles David Lawson Clark(1933-2006) publisher and lawyer, authority on the law of copyright.

[28] First published 1963.

[29] The Consumer, Society and the Law. Gordon J. Borrie & Aubrey L. Diamond. Penguin Books, 1973, 352pp.

[30] The Jury, Nov 1968, W.R. Cornish: Alen Lane, The Penguin Press, 295pp.

[31] Q. 121

[32] Q. 78

[33] "Thompsons Solicitors is uniquely committed to trade unions and the labour movement. From our foundation in 1921, we have taken a central role in helping unions to protect the interests of their members."

[34] Q. 123

[35] Law and Society in England 1750-1950,  W R Cornish & G de N Clark, London, Sweet & Maxwell 1989, 690pp

[36] 2010, The Oxford History of the Laws of England, 1820-1914. Vol XI: English Legal System, Vol XII: Private Law, Vol XIII: Fields of Development. Cornish, W.R., Anderson, J. S.,  Cocks, R.C.J.,  Lobban, M. J. W., Polden, P., and Smith, K. J. M.

[37] Q. 58. Having also spent the last part of 1968 on a short sabbatical at the University of Adelaide.

[38]  Ralph Gustav Dahrendorf, Baron Dahrendorf, KBE, FBA, (1929-2009), German sociologist, philosopher, political scientist and liberal politician, Director of LSE (1974-84).

[39] Q. 64

[40] Q. 73

[41] Now called the Max Planck Institute for Innovation and Competition

[42] Sir Alan A Dashwood, Emeritus Professor of European Law (1995-2009), Sidney Sussex College.

[43]  George Dobry, (b?-), CBE, QC, Circuit Judge (1980-1992), Founder of the British Centre for English and European Legal Studies at Warsaw

[45] Q. 97

[46]  Gordon Slynn, The Right Honorable, Baron Slynn of Hadley, GBE, PC, QC (1930-2009), a former judge of the European Court of Justice and Lord of Appeal in Ordinary.

[47]  Eleanor V. E.Sharpston, QC (1955-) an Advocate General at the Court of Justice of the European Union, Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for European Legal Studies of the University of Cambridge (1998–2005), fellow of King's College, Cambridge (1992-).

[48] Q. 98

[49] Jennifer Davis, Director of Graduate Studies in Law & Graduate Admission Tutor, Wolfson College. Until October 2011 Herchel Smith College Lecturer in Intellectual Property Law.

[50] Richard Fentiman, Professor of Private International Law; Fellow of Queens' College; Chairman of the Faculty Board (2014-)

[51] Jonathan Morgan, University Senior Lecturer in Contract, Tort Law, Private Law Theory, Constitutional Law and Legal History, Corpus Christi College

[52] Stroud Francis Charles (Toby) Milsom, (1923- ). Professor of Law Cambridge (1976-90).

[53] Q. 82

[54] Q. 90

[55] Q. 91-92

[56] Q. 92

[57] John Tiley (1941-2013), Professor of the Law of Taxation (1990-2008), Fellow Queens' College Cambridge.

[58] John R. Spencer, Professor Emeritus of Law, President of the European Criminal Law Association (UK).

[59] Q. 95-96

[60] 1993 Statutes and Ordinances of the University of Cambridge, Law 1, p. 697. The current holder is Professor Lionel Bently (b. 1964), Emmanuel College.

[61] Herchel Smith, (1925–2001), Anglo-American organic chemist, benefactor to university science: Cambridge University, Emmanuel College, Queen Mary University of London, Harvard, University of Pennsylvania, and Williams College.

[62] Alexander Robertus Todd, Lord Todd FRS, (1907-1997), Sir Samuel Hall Professor of Chemistry and Director of Chemical Laboratories, Manchester University 1938-44;  Professor of Organic Chemistry, Cambridge University 1944-71; Nobel Prize for Chemistry 1957.

[63] Wyeth, an independent pharmaceutical company until it was purchased by Pfizer in 2009. Founded in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1860 as John Wyeth and Brother.

[64] Q. 110

[65] David Llewelyn, Deputy Dean & Professor of Law (Practice) at Singapore  Management University. Also Professor of Intellectual Property Law, King's College London.

[66] Tanya Aplin, Professor of Intellectual Property Law, King's College London.

[67] Jeffrey Hackney, sometime Fellow and Tutor in Law at Wadham and St Edmund Hall.

[68] Stuart Anderson, Professor of Law University of Otago.

[69] Michael Lobban, Professor of Legal History London School of Economics.

[70] Ray Cocks,  Professor of Law University of Keele.

[71] Patrick Polden, Professor Emeritus Brunel Law School.

[72] Keith Smith, Emeritus Professor of Law Cardiff Law School.

[73] Q. 141

[74] Q. 107