Use restrictions in contracts of sale

pink or black for court?

pink or black for court?

Long-term readers of this blog may recall earlier articles about whether a seller of a product may restrict the use that the purchaser can make of that product, and whether such restrictions are binding on subsequent owners of the product. For example, may the original seller exercise its IP rights against a subsequent owner to enforce any such restrictions? This subject raises questions of public policy that, in different jurisdictions, are channelled into legal principles such as exhaustion of rights, non-derogation from grant, and the first sale doctrine. See, for example, the EU UsedSoft case, discussed here in 2012.

This subject was forced back into IP Draughts’ mind by the recent spat between two artists, Sir Anish Kapoor and Mr Stuart Semple, reported here.

Apparently, Sir Anish has acquired an exclusive licence, in the field of art, to use Vantablack, the “blackest black” in existence, which is a technology based on carbon nanotubes. According to an FAQ on the website of Surrey Nanosystems, the creator of Vantablack, it seems that what Sir Anish has a licence to is a variant of Vantablack, known as Vantablack S-VIS:

Vantablack is generally not suitable for use in art due to the way in-which it’s made. Vantablack S-VIS also requires specialist application to achieve its aesthetic effect. In addition, the coating’s performance beyond the visible spectrum results in it being classified as a dual-use material that is subject to UK Export Control. We have therefore chosen to license Vantablack S-VIS exclusively to Kapoor Studios UK to explore its use in works of art. This exclusive licence limits the coating’s use in the field of art, but does not extend to any other sectors.

Let’s leave the interesting export-controls point to another day. It is not entirely clear what IP is being licensed, though presumably there is at least some know-how involved. Another FAQ indicates that:

Vantablack is a globally registered trademark and recognised brand owned by Surrey NanoSystems Limited. Companies would need written permission from SNS to use the Vantablack name in their products.

Incensed by Sir Anish’s actions in taking this exclusive licence, and the consequent restraint on artistic freedom, fellow artist Mr Stuart Semple has created the “pinkest pink” and is selling pots of the stuff, subject to the following condition:

Note: By adding this product to your cart you onfirm [sic] that you are not Anish Kapoor, you are in no way affiliated to Anish Kapoor, you are not purchasing this item on behalf of Anish Kapoor or an associate of Anish Kapoor. To the best of your knowledge, information and belief this paint will not make it’s [sic] way into that [sic] hands of Anish Kapoor.

Sir Anish has apparently responded to this provocation with a photograph of (inter alia) his hand:


According to Surrey Nanosystems, one of the stated benefits of Vantablack is “its ability to absorb light energy and convert it to heat”. Mmm…

Readers are invited to comment on whether they think the contractual restriction on supply to Anish Kapoor is enforceable, and what the measure of damages for breach of contract might be.



Filed under Contract drafting, Humour, Intellectual Property, Licensing

5 responses to “Use restrictions in contracts of sale

  1. Mark Twain famously said: ‘Only one thing is impossible for God: To find any sense in any copyright law on the planet’.

    I have never been able to wrap my mind around any part if IP law and use as my rule of thumb the cynical summary given me by a law professor:

    ‘If you are making money from someone else’s intellectual property in a way a court thinks unfair, the court will probably find you in violation of some law; if you are not making money from it, the court will probably find you not in violation’.

    Since Sir Anish apparently isn’t making money from his use of ‘pinkest pink’, there are probably no damages and therefore no violation and no occasion for ‘enforcement’.

    • Mmm… decide what is just, then work backwards to the reasons. I couldn’t possibly agree that judges do that. Or as the Red Queen said in Alice in a slightly different context:

      ‘No, no!’ said the Queen. ‘Sentence first—verdict afterwards.’

      ‘Stuff and nonsense!’ said Alice loudly. ‘The idea of having the sentence first!’

      ‘Hold your tongue!’ said the Queen, turning purple.

      ‘I won’t!’ said Alice.

      Off with her head!’ the Queen shouted at the top of her voice.

  2. vrkoven

    With respect, I didn’t see any restriction on supply to Mr. Kapoor, only a certification that the purchaser was not Kapoor or purchasing on his behalf. At best this would be a representation of the purchaser’s current status or intent at the time of purchase, the breach of which probably causes no damage to simple Mr. Semple whatever.

    Mind, if Semple asked a lawyer to draft a clause that would prevent Kapoor from acquiring the pink stuff, that lawyer might be considering notifying his or her insurer of the possibility of a claim.

    Cue Dr. Seuss here: “This one, I think, is called a Yink…”

    • Thanks Vance. Mr Semple’s lawyer might have been tempted to re-word the statement to say that the buyer represents and warrants that he is not Anish Kapoor, etc, thereby giving simple Semple the opportunity to sue in tort or contract. But we wouldn’t suggest such a thing, would we, as we know better 🙂 As for the loss, I agree it is difficult to see what financial loss paint-sample Semple would incur from the breach. Artistic or creative loss perhaps, but that isn’t a recognised head of loss under English law.

      I’m afraid that Dr Seuss references pass me by. I was brought up on Janet and John, followed by the Famous Five.

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