The origins of trade secrecy law in England, 1600-1851

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This paper examines the origins of trade secrecy law from the beginning of the
seventeenth century until Morison v Moat (1851), described by the Oxford History of the Laws of England as ‘foundational’. The paper reveals something of a conundrum. The first part shows that although the prevalence of guild
ordinances would have familiarized many with the concept of ‘lawful secrets’,
these provisions could no longer be enforced in the guild courts by the late
seventeenth century, or within the wider jurisdiction of the courts of the City
of London. Instead, as the second half of the paper shows, it was the law
courts proper that came to provide succour to those working trade secrets,
allowing them to both restrain employees from using secrets for their own
benefit and/or to sell secrets to other parties. This was a halting process, but
one that had certainly begun prior to Morison.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)254-281
Number of pages29
JournalJournal of Legal History
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2 Sept 2017
Externally publishedYes


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