Data have become the primary raw material for companies, which are unable to conduct their activity without increasingly copious and complex information. However, the Member States of the European Union regulate property rights and access to them differently. This legal divergence, which is a problem for businesses, has caught the European Commission’s attention.

Indeed, the community institution has established that the inconsistent regulation of the data protection regime has become a problem that could be resolved through future legal harmonization. Likewise, the proposal is to extend the process already initiated in some data-related areas, such as personal data protection or industrial secrecy, to ensure a regulatory framework that avoids difficulties currently arising owing how differently this matter is treated in different Member States.

In the framework of this process of reflection, the European Commission has recently published a study analyzing the main factors that should be taken into account to provide a comprehensive and harmonized legal system for such a significant business asset. The paper analyzes the general community principles applicable to the protection of and access to data from the perspective of industrial secrecy, intellectual property, data protection and other related fields, such as contract law, the object of which is access to and use of data, and even the incidence of competition law in this matter.

The study then analyzes the legal regime applicable in the national regulation of four Member States (France, Germany, Spain and England and Wales), and also describes the corresponding interpretative criteria established by the relevant courts.

This report will serve as a basis for the communication the European Commission is preparing on the construction of a European data-based economy ("Building a European Data Economy"), which is expected to be published by January 2017.