Shanks v Unilever: inventors ‘outstanding benefit’ to their employers

31 JAN 2020

Employee’s inventions that result in exceptional success on the market for their employer may entitle that employee to a share of the benefit, if the invention is protected under the Patents Act 1977. Exceptional success is judged by looking at the commercial reality and business of the employer and the impact the invention has upon this.

Shanks v Unilever Overview

Professor Shanks was an employee of Unilever UK Central Resources Ltd (CRL), a subsidiary of the Unilever group. The invention in question was a type of biosensor which measured serum glucose levels. Unilever had little to no interest in home diabetic testing kits. As the market continued to grow over the years it resulted in Unilever receiving a financial benefit through licensing of £24m. Professor Shanks, in 2006, applied for compensation of this £24m on the basis that his invention provided outstanding benefit to his employer. He claimed for 20% plus an uplift for the effect of passage of time on money’s-worth.


The UK Intellectual Property Office held that s.40 of the Patents Act 1977 proved that the benefit Shanks provided was not outstanding when you considered the “size and nature” of Unilever. Furthermore, they held that had it been outstanding, the hearing officer would have awarded Shanks 5% with no consideration of the uplift that he claimed for.

Shanks appealed this but was again dismissed by both the High Court and the Court of Appeal.

The UK Supreme Court provided a different judgment after considering s40-43 of the Patents Act 1977. The Supreme Court stated that the benefit provided by Shanks was ‘outstanding’ when compared with the other patents developed by CRL. The ruling was that it was wrong to compare the monies generated by Shanks’ patent to the overall turnover of Unilever. Rather it should be the benefit to the Unilever group, CRL, and whether this was ‘outstanding’ in comparison to other patents by this subsidiary.

The Supreme Court awarded Shanks £2m (5%), adjusting this figure to reflect firstly, the role of Unilever to bring this patent to market and secondly, Shanks duty to invent (his employment).


The Supreme Court’s decision to not compare the money earned from the patent to the overall turnover of the company as a whole prevented a situation where it would be nearly impossible to claim successfully against large groups.

Awarding Shanks 5% rather than the 20% he claimed showed that the Supreme Court clearly recognised the part played by Unilever, in resources and funding, and without them the product will have had a lesser chance at succeeding to be marketed and commercialised.

Yulia Barnes

Managing Partner

Yulia Barnes is our Managing Partner. She is an experienced solicitor and advises on a wide range of contentious and non-contentious matters for both private and corporate clients.

Experience Yulia started her legal career at a large international Magic Circle firm. She then became a partner at a regional law firm and headed a Dispute Resolution Department. She then moved in-house before starting her own Boutique practice, Barnes Law, with the aim of providing exclusive services to high net-worth individuals and privately-owned businesses. More details can be found on her LinkedIn profile.

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Will Moran


Will joined Barnes Law as an Associate Solicitor in Spring 2023, shortly after qualifying in September 2022.

Will works mostly on real estate and corporate/commercial matters. Will enjoys providing advice on transactional matters.

Away from the office, Will can be found reading or playing golf. While he played rugby until university, and rowed throughout his degree, he now tends to watch both from the sidelines. During the winter he can also be found skiing.

Will plans to continue developing his legal skills and experience at Barnes Law, under the expertise and guidance provided by Yulia.

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Mark advises businesses of all sizes – from sole traders to corporations. Among his clients are: clothing and lifestyle brands, restaurants and food suppliers, IT companies, banks, hedge funds and venture capital firms, education providers, medical and pharmaceutical brands.

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She advises on all three pillars of separation: divorce, children matters and financial settlements. Ioulia is a member of Resolution and is keen to try to settle matters at early stages.

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Alex joined Barnes Law in September 2023 after finishing his master’s degree in law. Prior to joining Barnes Law, Alex worked in property litigation at Ashfords. Alex assists Yulia on a variety of both contentious and non-contentious matters.

Outside of the office, Alex enjoys reading and hiking. Prior to working in law, Alex was a competitive tennis player.

Alex continues to develop his skills in legal practice under Yulia’s guidance, he plans to sit the Solicitor’s Qualifying Exams (SQE) in 2024.


Mehves Selamoglu


Mehves joined Barnes Law in August 2023, right after graduating from Queen Mary, University of London (LLB Senior Status). As part of her qualification journey, Mehves is currently pursuing her Legal Practice Course (‘LPC’) at the University of Law. She also holds a degree in European Union Law from Maastricht University, Netherlands.

Mehves works closely with Yulia on a variety of contentions matters and also writes Barnes Law’s legal blogs, manages social media accounts and is responsible for marketing.

Outside of work and studies, she enjoys running, tennis and yoga.

Mehves is looking forward to developing her legal skills at Barnes Law.


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Julia’s particular area of expertise are IT start-ups at different stages. Julia supports business through their fund-raising journey. As an Investor Relations Manager, Julia communicates with investors to facilitate a smooth round and legal part of each transaction.

In her free time Julia enjoys sailing, ballroom dancing, art exhibitions and travel.