Trade secrets and other IP protection

Database right


Databases are protected under law through:

  • copyright
  • 'sui generis' or database right

Both are automatic, unregistered rights that allow the owner to control certain uses of their database.

Copyright protection for databases

Copyright protects the selection or arrangement of material in a database where this is original, ie creative. Depending on the nature of the content within the database, the content itself:

  • may be subject to individual copyright protection (eg an article)
  • may not constitute intellectual property (eg raw data or values)

If you are creating or using a database that includes individual copyright material, you may need to seek permission of the copyright owners to use their work. See copyright for your business.

Copyright protection for databases in the UK and EEA has not changed after 1 January 2021. The UK and all EEA member states are members of international treaties on copyright that ensure eligible works (eg databases that are original) are protected in all treaty countries. This does not depend on the UK's relationship with the EU or EEA.

Database rights

Database rights protect the contents of a database. A database does not have to be original for it to qualify for database rights, but there needs to have been a substantial investment in obtaining, verifying or presenting the data.

In business, database rights may can apply, for example, to:

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

Database rights from 1 January 2021
Database rights were introduced by the EU Database Directive. Only databases made by EEA nationals, residents or businesses are eligible for protection under the database right.

UK citizens, residents, and businesses are not eligible to receive or hold database rights in the EEA for databases created on or after 1 January 2021.

Database rights that exist in the UK or EEA before 1 January 2021 (whether held by UK or EEA persons or businesses) will continue to exist in the UK and EEA for the rest of their duration. These rights are guaranteed under the Withdrawal Agreement. If you wish to use databases protected by these rights, you will continue to need the permission of the right holders.

UK owners of databases created on or after 1 January 2021 will need to consider whether they can rely on alternative means of protection in the EEA - for example licensing agreements or copyright, where applicable.

For more information, see sui generis database rights from 1 January 2021.