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Intellectual Property in Construction Drawings Upheld

In an important decision for the construction industry, the High Court has upheld the intellectual property rights of a subcontractor in design and other technical drawings for a flagship petroleum studies and research centre in the Middle East.

The main site contractor had employed the subcontractor to produce, deliver and install a number of building façades. However, the agreement was marked by bitter disputes which culminated in the subcontractor’s exclusion from the site. The subcontractor was accused of abandoning the project but countered with arguments that the contractor had been guilty of repudiatory conduct.

The various disputes had been submitted to arbitration. However, an issue arose as to the status of drawings which had remained in the subcontractor’s site office. It was submitted by the contractor that the subcontractor had been paid in full for producing those drawings and that their continued use was necessary for the satisfactory completion of the project.

However, in granting an interim injunction, the Court found that the subcontractor had a strongly arguable case that the drawings were for its own internal use and that such detailed plans were likely to contain commercially sensitive information in a highly competitive industry.

If the contractor was ultimately found not to be entitled to the drawings, but to have used them and provided them to replacement façade subcontractors, damages would not be an adequate remedy. In those circumstances, the preservation of the subcontractor’s intellectual property rights in the drawings outweighed the contractor’s concerns.

The injunction restrained the contractor from making any use of the documents remaining in the subcontractor’s site office and from removing, disposing of or parting with the same in any way.