Accessibility statement

Sean Thomas



Dr Sean Thomas
LLB (Durham), PhD (Manchester)


I joined York as a Reader in September 2019, having previously held positions at the University of Durham (2015-19, Associate Professor), University of Leicester (2010-13, Lecturer in Commercial Law; 2013-15, Senior Lecturer in Commercial Law) and Anglia Ruskin University (2008-10, Senior Lecturer in Law).

I hold a PhD from the University of Manchester (where I was a Graduate Teaching Assistant). I also hold a PG Certificate in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education, and am a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

I am currently the Deputy Chair of the Board of Studies, Chair of the Staff-Student Forum, and the Research Seminar coordinator.



My research concerns, broadly, the transfer of ownership of personal property. I approach this fundamental issue by examining the interconnections of forms and methods of ownership and control of personal, real and intellectual property drawing on multiple disciplinary and methodological foundations. I have expertise in title conflicts (particularly comparative analysis with United States law), the historical development of commercial law, and the interface between goods, intellectual property, and land. I also have a longstanding interest in radical property practices, and my work on freeganism and waste has been cited widely across disciplinary boundaries and has attracted media and other interest.

Recently my work has concentrated on two areas of growing importance: circular economy, and smart technology. My analyses of law and circular economics was amongst the first in the field (and was the first considering English and Welsh law and circular economy); I have a rather sceptical view of the legal implications of circular economics on the ownership and use of goods. I have also published work examining the interface between sales law and smart technologies; again, I am critical of the possible implications for ownership of goods.

My most recent publication is the fourth edition of Bradgate’s Commercial Law (OUP 2024) (co-authored with Dr Reza Beheshti and Professor Severine Saintier).

My work has been cited judicially, by the Law Commission, and the Scottish Law Commission. I am a member of the advisory board to the Everyday Cyborgs project (Professor Muireanne Quigley), and of the advisory board to the Commercial Code project (Professor Gerard McMeel KC). I have also been a member of the Secured Transactions Law Reform Project (LINK).

My current projects include chapters and articles concerning new asset types in Scotland following the Moveable Transactions (Scotland) Act 2023, the relationship between the nemo dat exceptions and the law of theft, developing a commercial contract law for circular economy transactions, and a very brief piece about Lord Denning’s jurisprudence. I also have worked with management scholars in the School of Business and Society on projects concerning servitisation in circular economy, and waste supply chains.

I am also (slowly, but surely) working on two monographs. One looks to the past, and examines the development of English law on middlemen in sales transactions c1700-1800. The other looks to the future, and examines the possible death of ownership.

I am happy to discuss potential research projects in the following fields:

Circular Economy

Smart Technology and Artificial Intelligence

Contract Law

Commercial Law

Land Law

Personal Property Law

Legal History


Selected publications


  • Bradgate’s Commercial Law (4th edn, OUP 2024) (with R Beheshti and S Saintier)


  • ‘Waste, marginal property practices, and the Circular Economy’ (2020) 12(3) Journal of Property, Planning, and Environmental Law 203-218 
  • ‘Personal Property Law for a Zero-Waste Circular Economy: using retention of title clauses to reduce plastics waste’ (2019) 15 (2) Law, Environment and Development Journal 176-207  
  • ‘Law and the Circular Economy’ [2019] Journal of Business Law 62-83
  • ‘Law, Smart Technology, and Circular Economy: All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace?’ (2018) 10 (2) Law, Innovation & Technology 230-265
  • ‘Security Interests in Intellectual Property: Proposals for Reform’ (2017) 37(2) Legal Studies 214-247
  • ‘Mortgages, fixtures, fittings and security over personal property’ (2015) 66 Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly 343-365
  • ‘The Development of the Implied Terms on Quantity in the Law of Sale of Goods’ (2014) 35 The Journal of Legal History 281-318
  • ‘Sale of Goods and Intellectual Property: Problems with Ownership’ (2014) Intellectual Property Forum 25-43
  • ‘The Role of Authorization in Title Conflicts Involving Retention of Title Clauses: Some American Lessons’ (2014) 43 Common Law World Review 29-61
  • ‘Transfers of Documents of Title under English Law and the Uniform Commercial Code’ [2012] Lloyd’s Maritime and Commercial Law Quarterly 573-605
  • ‘The Right to Reject for Short Delivery and Termination’ (2012) 11 Journal of International Trade Law and Policy 44-64
  • ‘Goods with embedded software: obligations under Section 12 of the Sale of Goods Act 1979’ (2012) 26 International Review of Law, Computers & Technology 165-183
  • ‘The Origins of the Factors Acts 1823 and 1825’ (2011) 32 The Journal of Legal History 151-187
  • ‘Do Freegans Commit Theft?’ (2010) 30 (1) Legal Studies 98-125
  • ‘Mistake of Identity: A Comparative Analysis’ [2008] Lloyd’s Maritime and Commercial Law Quarterly 188-213

Book Chapters

  • ‘Artificial Intelligence and Sales’ in P Morgan and E Lim (eds), Cambridge Handbook of AI and Private Law (CUP, 2024) ch 22, 492-510
  • ‘Relationship and Intersections between Intellectual Property, Property (as security) and Circular Economy’ in T Pihlajarinne, J Mähönen, and P Upreti (eds), Rethinking the Role of Intellectual Property Rights in the Post Pandemic World: An Integrated Framework of Sustainability, Innovation and Global Justice (Elgar, 2023) ch 12, 226-246
  • ‘Smart Homes’ in S Farran, R Hewiston and A Ramshaw (eds), Modern Studies in Property Law: Volume XI (Hart 2021) ch 9, 190-212
  • ‘Legal considerations for a circular economy’ in T Tudor and C Dutra (eds) A Handbook of Waste, Resources and the Circular Economy (Routledge 2021) ch 17, 176-186
  • ‘English Commercial Law: Chasing Shadows’ in M Gałędek and A Klimaszewska (eds) Modernisation, National Identity, and Legal Instrumentalism: Studies in Comparative Legal History Volume I: Private Law (Brill, 2020) ch 5, 73-95
  • ‘Circular Economy, Title, and Harmonisation of Commercial Law’ in O Akseli and J Linarelli (eds), The Future of Commercial Law: Ways Forward for Harmonisation (Oxford, Hart Publishing 2020) 187-217



I have taught a wide range of QLD and optional modules at all levels of UG and PGT study. I have extensive experience in small (tutorial), medium (seminar), and large (lecture) group teaching, and a strong understanding of Problem Based Learning. I utilise a broad variety of traditional and non-traditional means of assessment in all aspects of my teaching. I have been lucky to have been nominated for the York University Students Union Teaching Excellence Award 2021-22.

My current teaching (2023-24) at York Law School:

  • Property (as part of the Foundations in Law modules across years 1 and 2). I am also the subject lead for Property.
  • I am the module leader for Personal Property Law (Y3 optional module)
  • Dissertation supervision (LLB and LLM)

I also teach a seminar on circular economy and law on the MSc Green Chemistry.

At York Law School, I have also taught Legal Concepts, Legal Skills, and Advanced Legal Skills. 

I will be running an LLM module on Law and Circular Economy in 2024-25.

External activities



Society of Legal Scholars

Socio-Legal Studies Association

Law & Society Association (USA)


External Examiner

University of Bristol (LLM)

University of Manchester (LLM and LLB)


Contact details

Dr Sean Thomas
York Law School

Tel: +44 (0)1904 32 6473