GlobalCOAL facilitates the trading of coal and coal derivatives by means of a standard industry contract (‘SCoTA’) and an online trading platform. Traders and brokers who make use of this platform sign a Product Licensing Agreement. Under this agreement, globalCOAL grants licensees a licence ‘under its Intellectual Property Rights in the globalCOAL Products to use the globalCOAL Products and the Trade Marks’ and in return the licensees undertake not to the ‘use the globalCOAL Products’ in certain ways, including transactions with parties that are not other globalCOAL licensees. ‘Products’ include data, prices, indices and contracts developed and published by globalCOAL.
This agreement was scrutinized last week in Global Coal Ltd v. London Commodity Brokers. The court asked itself: is it only globalCOAL’s IP that licensees are undertaking not to use in prohibited ways or does the undertaking extend further, to not using any of globalCOAL’s information and documents? Mr Justice Briggs came to the conclusion that the undertaking related to the Products, not the IP. If London Commodity Brokers had used the Products in brokering trades with parties that were not globalCOAL licensees, it would be in breach of contract even if it had not made use of globalCOAL’s IP.
Either way, the licensees’ obligations technically extend beyond IP rights. Copyright could never forbid you to refer to a dictionary when you write something. A contract can, perhaps. Moreover, restricting use of the Products was working more efficiently for globalCOAL than enforcing IP: the court found it easier, quicker and cheaper to determine whether a licensee had used the Products than the IP (e.g. copying SCoTA) – and jurisdiction was cleaner too.
But the advantages may not be without their risks. As the judgment draws to a close, it makes a passing reference to ‘potentially serious issues of abuse of dominant position’, but leaves them for another day.