The Law of Passing Off – Goodwill Beyond Goods

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Claimants in England have no specific right to object to third party use of their personal identities. Where the fact scenarios appear to fit, claimants have brought actions under the law of passing off. The House of Lords once declared the English law of passing off as the “most protean” among unfair trading wrongs for traders who suffer a resulting loss of business or goodwill. Until the recent cases of Irvine v. Talksport and Fenty v. Arcadia Group Brands Limited, such claimants have not been successful. Has the law been rendered more protean with the recent extensions to cover, in these two cases respectively, false endorsement claims and false merchandising claims? This work takes a bifurcated view of the concept of goodwill to show that throughout the development of the English law of passing off, claimants are concerned with the protection not only of their trade at hand, and with distinguishing it from that of rival traders. Above all, claimants are concerned with the protection of their control over the aspect of their goodwill which garners their trade going forward. By increasingly taking a contextual approach in appreciating the public understanding of branding practices and applying it within the doctrinal framework of the law to address the claimants’ fundamental concerns, the courts are treating the law of passing off with coherence and yet with relevance to contemporary commercial and social practices.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)817-842
Number of pages26
JournalThe International Review of Intellectual Property and Competition Law
Issue number7
Early online date19 Oct 2016
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2016

Bibliographical note

This paper has benefitted enormously from the gracious and generous comments from (in alphabetical order) Theodoros Chiotis, Christopher Floyd, Dev Gangjee, Tamas Gyorfi, Louis Harms, the IIC editors and reviewers, Colin Mackie, David Vaver, and Sharon Wong who have reviewed early drafts of this work, and members of the audience with whom I have discussed a part of this paper at an Oxford Intellectual Property Research Centre (OIPRC) seminar chaired and organised by Emily Hudson. It has also benefitted enormously from the discussions at the Oxford Trade Mark Scholars Roundtable 2015 at the OIPRC organised by Graeme Dinwoodie and Dev Gangjee. All infelicities remain mine alone. I am very grateful for the Carnegie research grant which has facilitated part of the research in this work.


  • passing off
  • goodwill
  • personality right
  • branding
  • instrumental value
  • intrinsic value


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