British Industrial Plastics Ltd v Ferguson: HL 1939

The plaintiff’s former employee offered the defendant information about one of the plaintiff’s secret processes which he, as an employee, had invented. The defendant knew that the employee was obliged by his contract not to reveal trade secrets but mistakenly thought that if the process was patentable, it would be the exclusive property of the employee. He took the information in the honest belief that the employee would not be in breach of contract.
Held: The former employer’s appeal failed. If a third party, with knowledge of a contract between the contract breaker and another, has dealings with a contract breaker which the third party knows to be inconsistent with the contract, he has committed an actionable interference. However, the defendant was not guilty, in this state of mind, of having induced a breach of contract. Mr Ferguson did not deliberately abstain from inquiry into whether disclosure of the secret process would be a breach of contract. He negligently made the wrong inquiry, but that is an altogether different state of mind.


[1940] 1 All ER 479


England and Wales


Appeal fromBritish Industrial Plastics Ltd v Ferguson CA 1938
The defendant received information about a patentable invention from the plaintiff’s former employee. He said that his (mistaken) view was that since the employee had himself made the invention, it was patentable by him, and not covered by the . .

Cited by:

CitedDouglas and others v Hello! Ltd and others; similar HL 2-May-2007
In Douglas, the claimants said that the defendants had interfered with their contract to provide exclusive photographs of their wedding to a competing magazine, by arranging for a third party to infiltrate and take and sell unauthorised photographs. . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Employment, Information, Torts – Other

Updated: 14 May 2022; Ref: scu.251743