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Case law: Ruling clarifies Database Right protection for database owners
Businesses owning a database will welcome a legal ruling that will help them decide if they enjoy a database right, so that the database is therefore protected from being reused by someone else.
A company provided an electrocardiograph (ECG) reporting service to a client. The service analysed ECG results keyed into a web-based system and flagged up potential problems using a traffic light system. One part of the database comprised classifications – physical characterisations arising from ECGs, such as ventricular rate. Users could then select options from menus corresponding to each ECG characterisation in the database. For example, for the menu item 'ventricular' rate the options were 'normal', 'bradycardia' (slow), 'tachycardia' (fast) and 'uncertain'. Each option was associated with a risk status – a traffic light - which reflected best medical practice for ECG screening purposes. There was also explanatory text to provide further information to the patient in the report on the ECG reading (called the 'patient definitions').
The client decided to switch to another system. It provided the new supplier with a pdf document showing the database. The new supplier copied the entire database from the pdf and also accessed the contents of the database electronically, using the relevant classifications and options to import the corresponding traffic lights and patient definitions into their patient reports.
The company claimed that the client and supplier had breached its Database Right.
A person has a database right if they have made a substantial investment (whether financial, human or technical) in obtaining, verifying or presenting the data in the database. A database is defined as 'a collection of independent works, data or other materials which are arranged in a systematic or methodical way and are individually accessible by electronic or other means'. Database rights are automatic, so there is no need to register them anywhere. The owner of the database can rely on their database rights to stop someone else extracting or reusing all, or any substantial part, of the database (except in certain limited circumstances).
The High Court noted that "the policy of the [EU Database] Directive is that databases which cost a lot of investment and can readily be copied should be protected. The right is created to protect the investment which goes into the creation of a database"' It found that the database tied together a classification, an option and a traffic light, and likened it to a telephone directory, where accessing a name carries with it an address and phone number. The Court found that the database was a database for the purposes of database right and that the company's investment in obtaining, verifying and presenting the contents of the database had been substantial. The company has a database right - which had been infringed.
- Businesses should consider whether they benefit from database right in relation to their databases, so they can prevent others from reusing all or a substantial part of it
Case ref: Technomed Ltd & Anor v Bluecrest Health Screening Ltd & Anor  EWHC 2142
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