Birss attended Largs Academy and then Lancaster Royal Grammar School. He graduated from Downing College, Cambridge in 1986 with a first class honours degree in metallurgy and materials sciences. Birss worked for Arthur Andersen until 1988 and after legal training at City University London he was called to the bar at Middle Temple in 1990, joining Three New Square, a specialist intellectual property set of barristers' chambers.
Birss was made a Queen's Counsel in 2008. He was appointed a Specialist Circuit Judge and assigned to the Patents County Court in 2010 and authorised to sit as a deputy High Court judge. On 13 May 2013, he was appointed a High Court judge, assigned to the Chancery Division, and received the customary knighthood.
In 2012 he ruled on Temple Island v New English Teas, a case where a photograph of an AEC Routemaster London bus crossing Westminster Bridge was found sufficiently similar to another photograph of the subject to constitute copyright infringement.
In July 2012, Birss, sitting in the High Court, ruled that Samsung did not infringe Apple's registered design right in the iPad designs. The judgment mirrored the decision made earlier in the US by a jury. In October 2012 the Court of Appeal upheld the judgment, including the publicity order imposed on Apple because it was necessary to clear up uncertainty in the market place after Apple took legal action in Germany against Samsung. The order required Apple to publicise that it had lost the case on its website and in the media. The Court of Appeal said, "because this case (and parallel cases in other countries) has generated much publicity, it will avoid confusion to say what this case is about and not about. It is not about whether Samsung copied Apple's iPad. Infringement of a registered design does not involve any question of whether there was copying: the issue is simply whether the accused design is too close to the registered design according to the test laid down in the law."
Sir Colin Birss lives with his wife and their three children at their family home in Hertfordshire. His recreations include beekeeping.
- "No. 60505". The London Gazette. 15 May 2013. p. 9621.
- Wakefield, Jane (25 January 2011). "Net piracy gets its day in court". BBC News. Retrieved 30 January 2011.
- "Samsung Galaxy Tab 'does not copy Apple's iPad designs'". The Guardian. 18 October 2012. Retrieved 15 May 2013.
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