the creation of a National Commons and Marketplace in Geographic Information.36 Such an approach might be relevant to other fields where commercial entities play a major role in data collection and dissemination.

Certainly, copyright protection, licensing, and an active commercial database market can coexist with a strong public domain in digital data. In recent years, efforts have been undertaken to utilize licensing to actively foster an expanded public domain. Although, as noted above, data are not subject to copyright protection, uncertainties about what data users are legally allowed to do with them can inhibit sharing and reuse. For example, it may not be clear whether a particular data collection is copyrightable or whether the creator intends to assert copyright.

The fact that copyright persists for many years—whether it is asserted or not—means that a database may need to be actively placed into the public domain in order for users to be certain that it is free from copyright restrictions and any type of reuse is permitted. Creative Commons and its offshoot, Science Commons, have developed a number of innovations in the area of licensing aimed at facilitating open dissemination, sharing, and use of a wide variety of information, including data. For example, Creative Commons recently launched its CC0 (“CCZero”) protocol that allows creators of copyrightable work, including database generators, to waive all rights they may have to a given work, to the extent possible in the applicable jurisdiction.37


Patents give researchers, nonprofit organizations, companies, and other entities the right to profit from an innovation. In return, the property owner must make the innovation public, which enables others to build on it. Once intellectual property is patented, it can be freely disseminated while still maintaining its commercial value to a company or research institution.

The Bayh-Dole Act of 1980 has had a major influence on the development of products from publicly funded research. The act granted the rights to inventions with the university, small-business, or nonprofit institution that accepted the research grant supporting the work. To accept this ownership, the university, small business, or nonprofit institution must:

  • Report each disclosed invention to the funding agency;

  • Elect to retain title in writing within a statutorily prescribed time frame;

  • File for patent protection;

  • Grant the federal government a nonexclusive, nontransferable, irrevocable, paid-up license to the invention;


National Research Council, Licensing Geographic Data and Services.


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