Q: Is my idea for a fact compilation database protectable by patent, copyright or neither?

I want to create a fact compilation database that would be used by businesses of a specific industry.

Multiple businesses would import and upload their customer data that would be stored in cloud storage, most likely. The result would be that businesses of the same type within the industry would be able to access customer information from other businesses who have also imported customer data for a complete transaction history. This platform currently does not exist within the industry.

The database would be code written from scratch, not using any type of templates or anything.

Would this type of database be protectable in any way? If so, do I need to look towards a patent or copyright?

2 Lawyer Answers
Dr. Jamie Cuticchia
Dr. Jamie Cuticchia
Answered
  • Patents Lawyer
  • Raleigh, NC

A: Copyright law used to require that the person seeking copyright for compilations must do more than compiling data. This was the "sweat of the brow" doctrine.

That has changed, however. A compilation of data can be copyrighted, but is must only contain the "facts." Even so little as taking a comment from the author of a source of data can result in copyright infringement.

THIS IS FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY.

Walker Weitzel
Walker Weitzel
Answered
  • Patents Lawyer
  • Seattle, WA

A: Original code is protectable by copyright. The protection would be extremely limited, however. Copyright would not protect the function of the code, only the actual written expression. It is unlikely it would be worth pursuing.

The platform itself might be patentable. This is a question that requires a legal opinion and a fair degree of research in order to render a useful opinion. The questions would be whether the platform's base idea is novel and nonobvious in light of the existing technology. Patent protection is a possibility, but more research is required to get a good determination.

Trade secrecy law might also offer some protection. A trade secret is information that gives a competitive advantage to its owner. It has commercial value because it is secret. Most states have statutory protection for trade secrets, which require the owner to take reasonable precautions to keep the information secret. Typically this is done by requiring nondisclosure agreements prior to sharing the information with others. It is unclear from the question whether this is possible based on the setup of the service. I would suggest consulting with a IP attorney to determine whether patent or trade secrecy protection is possible for your database.

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