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Ordnance Survey in High Court over data rights

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Nicola Byrne

The government-owned national mapping agency is in court this week to defend a case over data rights brought by startup 77M.

The claim relates to a product developed by 77M called ‘Matrix’, which is a database of geospatial information that offers customers insight on buildings and land.

In 2016, 77M pursued a declaration that the licencing and use of its product by customers does not infringe any database or copyright belonging to Ordnance Survey.

OS believes 77M can’t have declarations as the company has infringed OS’s Intellectual Property rights. OS added 77M never had consent to use the agency’s data in the first place.

OS has data that is freely available, however the data in question used by 77M required paid-for licencing. The claimant has apparently spent over £500,000 in developing the product and licenced data from at least 15 organisations, including Ordnance Survey and data provided under the Open Government Licensing Scheme.

Matrix 77M

77M’s website for Matrix is still live

Complex contract law points will be made by both sides about the nature of contracts between OS and 77M, relating to fees and duration, whether they were for one-off services or annual subscriptions for ongoing services.

Various allegations have been made in its claim by 77M about OS behaving in an “inappropriate manner for a public body”. In a hearing transcript from 2017 the Recorder, A Michaels, deduced from witness statements the relationship between the parties was “somewhat strained”.

The case was initially brought to the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court before being transferred to the main Chancery Division, and will now be heard by Mr Justice Birss. The same judge has been involved in some high-profile intellectual property cases. In July 2012, Birss, ruled that Samsung did not infringe Apple’s registered design right in the iPad designs.

A spokesperson for 77M said it’s has been a “long battle” and the company is “glad to finally have our day in court”, and added the firm believes its case is strong. The business, which consists of three staff, has been put on hold since the claim was filed.

77M’s spokesperson also highlighted calls for openness by the government’s Geospatial Commission, created in April 2018 as an independent committee, to make geographic information more accessible for use in industry, and to maximise its value to the UK.

A spokesperson for OS said: “At this time our focus is on preparing for the trial which commences on Wednesday 17 July. We expect the trial to conclude by the end of July with judgment being delivered following the summer recess. We will not be commenting on matters relating to the trial until the judgment has been given.”

77M is represented by Laceys of Bournemouth, which has instructed barrister Jaani Riordan of 8 New Square.

Ordnance Survey is represented by Fieldfisher, instructed by Lindsay Lane QC and Jessie Bowhill from 8 New Square.

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