Agents’ ownership of database rights

Barry Riley

In many contractual relationships there is real value in information stored on databases and the ownership of that information can be crucial to the relationship. The case of Cureton v Mark Insulations Limited underlined the importance of spelling out who owns the rights in the database, most particularly, in that case in a relationship between agent and principal.

The case concerned a supplier of home insulation who had entered into a verbal agreement with a sales agent who agreed to sell its insulation services to customers.  Unsurprisingly, the agent compiled, through its running of a telephone service dedicated to the principal’s business, an extensive list of customers and their contact details.

At the end of the agreement between the parties the agent claimed ownership of the database.  Counter to this the principal claimed that the agent was actually its employee and because of this the database belonged (and indeed had always belonged) to the principal.  The Court disagreed with the principal’s interpretation of the relationship and decided that the database was indeed owned by the agent.

The case highlights, once again, the need to have a formal written agreement in the case of any relationship where intellectual property rights are concerned and the dangers in assuming that you will have access to or ownership of valuable rights when an agreement comes to an end.

Barry Riley
DDI – 0117 9453 042


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