Trade secrets and other IP protection

Database right


Databases in the UK are protected under European law. This law protects databases in two ways:

  • by copyright - if they are original in the selection or arrangement of the materials
  • by 'sui generis' right - if they are not original in the sense of an author's own intellectual creation but they involved a substantial investment in their making

The two rights can run in parallel and apply to both paper and digital databases.

To qualify for protection, the collection of data must meet the relevant EU definition of a database, which is 'a collection of independent works, data or other materials arranged in a systematic or methodical way and individually accessible by electronic or other means'.

Important: The UK has left the EU on 31 January 2020 and has entered a transition period until the end of 2020. Protection in the EU for databases produced in the UK will change after the end of the transition period. Find information on sui generis database rights from 1 January 2021.

Database protection through copyright

Copyright can protect your database if it is an original intellectual creation. This guarantees you exclusive rights to reproduce, adapt, distribute the database or any variation of it.

With copyright, you protect the structure of your database (ie the originality and creativity of expression of the arrangement) but not its content.

Content, depending on its nature, may be subject to individual copyright protection (eg an article) or may not even constitute intellectual property (eg raw data or values). If you are creating or using a database that includes individual copyrighted material, you may need to seek permission of the copyright owners to use their work. See copyright for your business.

Sui generis protection

The sui generis right can protect the content of the database if its creator can prove that they have made a substantial investment of time, effort and/or money in obtaining, verifying or presenting the content.

In business, this can apply to:

  • customer lists
  • sales records
  • business contacts
  • extracts from research reports, etc

When you arrange these in a systematic or methodical way with access to each individual item within the database, you can generally protect it under the database right.

How long does sui generis database right last?

Like copyright, database right is automatic. Protection begins when the material exists in recorded form. It lasts for 15 years from the date that the database was made. You can extend it by adding a substantial amount of new information at any point during this time.

When does database right apply?

For the sui generis right to apply, the maker or the right-holder of the database must be:

  • a resident or a national of a European Economic Area (EEA) member state
  • a company formed and registered in a member state

This right is unique to the EEA and does not arise in relation to databases created or owned by non-EEA citizens, residents, or businesses.