By David Knight
Founder and CEO of Terbine

This commentary was originally published by the Assn. of Equipment Manufacturers. The complete text can be found at

With Internet of Things (IoT) technology becoming critical to equipment manufacturers, questions about data ownership are coming with increased frequency. And the answers aren't obvious.

Many organizations are beginning to send their machine-generated IoT data to third parties. Often this is motivated by a desire to monetize the data, and sometimes by regulatory reporting reasons. These initiatives are bringing the issues of data ownership and licensing to the foreground.

Interestingly, there are few established standards for determining how ownership is assigned, much less how IoT data can be licensed properly. Here's an overview:

Data Ownership in the Western World

Generally, the owner of machine-generated data (MGD) is the entity that holds title to the device that recorded the data. In other words, the entity that owns the IoT device also owns the data produced by that device.

However, when real-world constructs such as lease holdings come into play, the issue of ownership gets more complex and murky.

Furthermore, data may be owned by one party and controlled by another. Possession of data does not necessarily equate to title. Possession is control. Title is ownership.

Referred to as usage rights, each time data sets are copied, recopied and transmitted, control of the data follows it. Conversely, transfer of ownership requires a legal mechanism to convey title.  

Clinically speaking, data is owned by the titleholder. In this regard, data title is like a deed to real property. MGD may also contain metadata, which is akin to mineral and water rights.