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Ordnance Survey wins in High Court over data rights

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Nicola Byrne

The High Court has ruled in favour of the mapping agency after a long-running trial over data rights brought up by startup 77M, however 77M did achieve a “measure of success” according to the judge.

The case was heard over a two-week trial in the High Court in July 2019.

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, and if brought to market, would compete with Ordnance Survey’s address database AddressBase.

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 and its partner mapping service GeoPlace responded with a defence and counterclaim, claiming infringement of both copyright and database rights. The case was initially brought to the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court before being transferred to the High Court to be heard by Mr Justice Birss.

The litigation is set to become a landmark case over the re-use in commercial products of data, derived from public sector datasets.

The elements of the judgement included:

  • 77M has not breached the INSPIRE download terms. Therefore, the claim for infringement of OS database right relating to 77M’s use of INSPIRE or data derived from INSPIRE fails. INSPIRE is a dataset of boundaries of registered freehold properties in England and Wales, published under the Open Government Licence. Justice Birrs said the terms of the licence don’t say anything about the sale of a product or service based on the dataset
  • 77M has breached the A1 Match licence. The A1 Match is a deal under which HM Land Registry provided property descriptions for 910,000 features
  • 77M scraped 3.5m addresses from HMLR’s Find a Property Service and breached the applicable terms
  • 77M’s use of the above information obtained from HMLR and Registers of Scotland amounted to acts of infringement of database rights held by OS and GeoPlace
  • 77M’s use of the addresses manually downloaded from HMLR’s Find a Property service, which were about 480,000 in number, was found not to have infringed any OS database rights
  • No issue about authority to grant licences was raised
  • 77M failed in its claim OS had procured a breach of contract by HMLR

In a statement, OS and GeoPlace welcomed the Court’s decision, “which recognises and confirms the value of intellectual property rights, in particular database rights, in OS and GeoPlace data.”

“The decision recognises and protects the significant investment which both organisations make every year to ensure the quality of the information which customers across the public and private sector rely on.”

The statement added: “OS’s preference is to always seek to resolve disputes through discussion. However, Crown and OS intellectual property rights are extremely important to us, and we will take action where necessary to uphold IPR both for the benefit of OS and our customers and other stakeholders.”

Following the High Court judgement, 77M took down its website and is currently undergoing an update.

Speaking to PlaceTech, a spokesperson for 77M said the company was “disappointed in the overall judgement but that at least after 2 years we now have a clear way forward for our new products which will soon be available through our website.”

77M is looking to launch a new product called Matrix 2.0 and full details will be available when the site is reinstated.

Owen Boswarva, a data blogger who’s been following the trial, commented on Twitter: “There’s a lot to unpack in the detail of the decision. Neither OS nor HMLR emerge unscathed, and it’s not clear where the parties will stand on damages.”

In a blog about the ruling, Boswarva added: “The public interest would be better served if Government pooled the resources of Land Registry and Ordnance Survey and released the core geospatial data assets of both organisations for wider re-use as open data.”

There will be a hearing next February to determine costs and all remedies.

77M was represented by Laceys of Bournemouth. Ordnance Survey was represented by Fieldfisher.

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