John Adams, 1939-2012

June 21, 2012

An "affable and amusing" scholar whose expertise ranged from 18th-century legal treatises to the latest developments in intellectual property law has died.

John Adams was born on 24 December 1939, grew up in the North East of England and took a law degree at what is now Newcastle University.

After qualifying as a solicitor, he worked in private practice from 1965 to 1971 before deciding to make a sideways shift into the academy.

Although he was called to the Bar in 1984 and eventually worked for Hogarth Chambers, his most important contribution was as a teacher and scholar of exceptionally broad interests.

Professor Adams' academic career was largely divided between two institutions. He was employed at the University of Sheffield as a lecturer in law from 1971 to 1979 and as professor of intellectual property from 1994, gaining emeritus status on retirement in 2005.

The intervening period was spent at the University of Kent, first as a senior lecturer in law (1979-87) and then as professor of commercial law (1987-94).

He also had shorter-term positions at the University of Maryland, the National Law Center in Washington DC and Universite Paris X Nanterre. Even after formal retirement he continued as an adjunct professor at the University of Notre Dame's London base.

A leading expert on intellectual property, Professor Adams played an important role in developing the University of Sheffield's holdings in this area and in establishing Intellectual Property Quarterly. He also served as director of the Intellectual Property Institute from 1991 to 1999.

Yet he was equally interested in the historical and philosophical aspects of the law and, in A Bibliography of Eighteenth Century Legal Literature (1982), helped produce an invaluable scholar's guide to the collections of the Inns of Court and the leading British and American law libraries.

Far more accessible, and much consulted by generations of students, are the series of books Professor Adams co-authored with Roger Brownsword, professor of law at King's College London: Understanding Contract Law (1987), Understanding Law (1992) and Key Issues in Contract (1995). The first of these appeared in its fifth edition in 2007.

Professor Brownsword recalled "a man happy to be working on four or five projects at the same time, who left his mark on so many different areas of the law".

"Gregarious, affable and amusing, he was always throwing parties and kept the door open for his students - I never saw John on a bad day," he said.

Professor Adams died of a heart attack on 14 April and is survived by his civil partner.

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