Skip over navigation


WIPO CRNR/DC/6 ORIGINAL: English DATE: August 30, 1996

Notes on Article 1

1.01 Article 1 sets out the scope of the proposed Treaty. It provides that Contracting Parties shall protect all databases that represent a substantial investment.

1.02 The production and distribution of databases has become a broad economic activity which is expanding rapidly worldwide. The production and distribution of databases may be viewed as a "content industry" within the information industry, and it may be expected that this industry will be a major source of employment. The development of a content industry has both direct and indirect effects on the development of the information infrastructure at a national and international level. In this connection, the database industry plays a significant role in fostering new industries and new jobs.

1.03 The production and distribution of databases requires considerable investment. At the same time, exact copies of whole databases or their essential parts can be made at practically no cost. The increasing use of digital recording technology exposes database makers to the risk that the contents of their databases may be copied and rearranged electronically, without their authorization, to produce similar competing databases or databases with identical content.

1.04 Unauthorized retrieval and copying of the contents of a database has serious consequences for the economics of database production. Protection against unauthorized copying and other unauthorized use has been sought through the copyright system. According to the prevailing view, a significant proportion of existing databases may already be protected by copyright. A condition for this protection is that a database meet the requirements for copyright protection, i.e. that it be the result of its creator's own intellectual effort and that it achieve a sufficient level of originality. It has, however, become evident that copyright does not provide sufficient protection. Many valuable databases do not qualify for copyright protection. It should be noted that in some countries specific sui generis forms of intellectual property protection now apply to databases or are presently being established. In some other countries, copyright seems to provide all the protection needed by databases. Nonetheless, these national or regional solutions remain insufficient. In the network environment of the global information infrastructure the database market is truly international and does not respect national boundaries.

1.05 In all countries, continued investment is an essential factor for the development and refinement of databases. Such investment will not take place unless a stable and uniform regime of legal protection is established to protect the rights of makers of databases.

1.06 The proposed Treaty seeks to safeguard makers of databases against misappropriation of the fruits of their financial and professional investment in collecting, verifying and presenting the contents of databases. It does this by proposing protection that covers the whole or substantial parts of a database against certain acts by a user or by a competitor, for the limited duration of the right. The investment, of course, may comprise financial resources, human resources or both.

1.07 On March 11, 1996, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union adopted a Directive on the legal protection of databases (96/9/EC). This Directive harmonizes certain aspects of the copyright protection provided for databases and creates an exclusive sui generis right for the makers of databases. The general objective of this right is to protect the investment of time, money and effort by the maker of a database, irrespective of whether the database is in itself innovative. According to the Directive, a database is protected if there has been a substantial investment, in qualitative or quantitative terms, in obtaining, verifying or presenting the contents of the database. The duration of the protection provided by the Directive is 15 years. The date by which the Member States of the European Union must implement the Directive in their national legislation is January 1, 1998. The proposal submitted by the European Community and its Member States for the February 1996 session of the Committees of Experts follows closely the substantive provisions of this Directive.

1.08 In May 1996, a bill was introduced in the United States Congress (H.R. 3531) that would amend title 15 of the United States Code to create a new federal statute for database protection. The proposed "Database Investment and Intellectual Property Antipiracy Act of 1996" is aimed at preventing actual or threatened competitive injury by the misappropriation of databases or their contents; it is not targeted at non-competitive uses. A database would be subject to protection under the Act if the collection, assembly, verification, organization or presentation of the database contents were the result of a qualitatively or quantitatively substantial investment of human, technical, financial or other resources.

1.09 An important part of the background to the United States bill was the United States Supreme Court decision in Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service Co., Inc., 499 U.S. 340 (1991). The bill was introduced in the U.S. Congress with the statement that "While reaffirming that most , although not all , commercially significant databases satisfy the 'originality' requirement for protection under copyright, the Court [in Feist ] emphasized that this protection is 'necessarily thin'. Several subsequent lower court decisions have underscored that copyright cannot stop a competitor from lifting massive amounts of factual material from a copyrighted database to use as the basis for its own competing product."

1.10 The United States bill draws on the fundamental elements of the European Directive and is parallel to its Trans-Atlantic counterpart in its most crucial points. The most significant difference between the United States bill and the European Directive is that the former proposes a 25-year term of protection. When the bill was introduced, its sponsors emphasized that the existing protection for databases afforded by copyright and contract law would not be affected. The bill is intended to supplement these legal rights, not replace them. Furthermore, it was emphasized that the bill avoids conferring any monopoly on facts. The bill is intended to be fully consistent with the proposal on sui generis protection of databases which was submitted by the Delegation of the United States of America for the May 1996 sessions of the Committees of Experts (document BCP/CE/VII/2-INR/CE/VI/2).

1.11 The proposed Treaty is based on the aforementioned proposals made by the European Community and its Member States and by the United States of America, taking into account discussions within the Committees of Experts. The scope of the proposed Treaty is laid down in the provisions of Article 1 in a manner that is fully consistent with these proposals.

1.12 Paragraph (1) identifies the protected subject matter and sets out the general condition for protection. The protected subject matter is databases. The condition for protection is that a substantial investment has been made in the formation of the database. The expressions "database" and "substantial investment" are defined in Article 2.

1.13 Paragraph (2) makes it clear that protection shall be granted to databases irrespective of the form or medium in which they are embodied. Protection extends to databases in both electronic and non-electronic form. Moreover, this wording embraces all forms or media now known or later developed. Paragraph (2) also makes it clear that protection shall be granted to databases regardless of whether they are made available to the public. This means that databases that are made generally available to the public, commercially or otherwise, as well as databases that remain within the exclusive possession and control of their developers enjoy protection on the same footing.

1.14 Paragraph (3) expresses the principle that the protection accorded by the proposed Treaty is independent of any other form of protection. The protection would therefore be of a new or independent nature. Consequently, the proposed Treaty provides cumulative protection by the attachment of different rights to the database or to its contents. It should be pointed out that the proposed new protection does not replace any of the existing forms of protection that apply to databases or their contents.

1.15 Paragraph (4) provides that protection does not extend to any computer programs as such. A computer program is a set of programming instructions that may cause a computer to perform certain functions or achieve certain results. A computer program can include collections of data or other materials that are not part of the set of instructions that form the operative core of the computer program. According to the proposed Treaty, such databases incorporated in computer programs are protected in the same way as any other databases.

[End of Notes on Article 1]

Article 1


(1) Contracting Parties shall protect any database that represents a substantial investment in the collection, assembly, verification, organization or presentation of the contents of the database.

(2) The legal protection set forth in this Treaty extends to a database regardless of the form or medium in which the database is embodied, and regardless of whether or not the database is made available to the public.

(3) The protection granted under this Treaty shall be provided irrespective of any protection provided for a database or its contents by copyright or by other rights granted by Contracting Parties in their national legislation.

(4) The protection under this Treaty shall not extend to any computer program as such, including without limitation any computer program used in the manufacture, operation or maintenance of a database.

[End of Article 1]

United States Patent and Trademark Office
This page is owned by Office of Policy and International Affairs.
Last Modified: 7/4/2009 4:16:06 PM