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Who Owns (really owns) “Big Data”

by Doug Laney  |  April 3, 2013  |  4 Comments

Given all the hype over Big Data and concerns of data ownership, I thought it would be interesting to explore who actually owns Big Data, no I mean really owns “big data.” Yes, the trademark. Next stop, the United States Patent and Trademark Office online database.

Talk about Big Data. The database contains a treasure trove of over 8 million patents and 16 million filings dating back to Samuel Hopkins’s 1790 registered process of making potash, an ingredient used in fertilizer (signed by President George Washington no-less), and the oldest active trademark, SAMSON, registered for a brand of rope in 1884, among the nearly 3 million trademarks. With almost 200,000 patent applications and 100,000 trademark applications a year and growing, so are the ranks of the examiners–almost doubling since 2005.

But back to “Big Data”. The term has been in use since at least the mid 1990’s, seemingly coined by Silicon Graphics chief engineer John Mashey who gave a seminar entitled “”Big Data & the Next Wave of InfraStress.” However since he never trademarked it, who did?

Those of you pioneers in data warehousing will remember a boutique consulting firm, often joined at the hip with Teradata, based in Chicago called Knightsbridge Solutions. Knightsbridge specialized in building large databases and data warehouses before it was absorbed into HP. On January 9, 2001, a Knightsbridge attorney filed the trademark and “big data” became a US citizen or whatever. However, they must have liked the term about as much as most of the industry does today (despite its popularity), as they abandoned the trademark less than a year later.

It wasn’t until ten years passed that an enterprising man in Texas reclaimed it only to abandon it again months later. Poor Big Data! It’s been declared dead twice even before it slides into the Gartner® Hype Cycle™ Trough of Disillusionment™.  Not to worry, a fledgling VC called Big Data Boston Ventures nabbed the mark last summer. Until they launch, it seems to be the only asset in their portfolio.

Good news for those of you feeling like you missed the boat, there are plenty of variants still available. The USPTO site lists only 44 (108 as of 2015-03-02) related marks including clever ones such as “Bigdata”, “Making Big Data Small”, “Big Data for the Little Guy”, “Rocket Fuel for Big Data Apps”, “Dominating Big Data”, “Wala! Big Data Simplified”, and my personal favorite that integrates large information and lager libation: “Big Data on Tap.” For a complete list of all the 100+ current “big data” trademark variants as of 2015-03-02 , see the online spreadsheet I compiled.

Here’s to you Big Data!  You’ve made your mark.

UPDATE: As of February 3, 2015, the U.S. rights to the “big data” mark is held by Alan Wilkis of Wilcassettes LLC, better known as the recording electronic project Big Data that gained fame in 2014 with the top hit and satirical (but NSFW) music video Dangerous.

Follow Doug on Twitter: @Doug_Laney

Category: big-data  digital-marketing  

Tags: big-data  intellectual-property  patent  trademark  

Doug Laney
VP and Distinguished Analyst, Chief Data Officer Research
10 years at Gartner
30 years in IT industry

Doug Laney is a research vice president and distinguished analyst with Gartner. He advises clients on data and analytics strategy, information innovation, and infonomics (measuring, managing and monetizing information as an actual corporate asset). Follow Doug on Twitter @Doug_Laney...Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Who Owns (really owns) “Big Data”

  1. Nick Gall says:

    Doug, I’m quite sure the courts will find that no one “owns” the mark “big data” anymore. It is now clearly a generic term and likely to remain so. Registration of a mark is NO indication of ownership wrt the issue of genericness. So the VC firm’s ownership of the registration entitles them no nothing (other than some weak presumptions in legal proceedings).

    Remember, the sole purpose of a trademark is to inform the public about the source of the product. If in the public’s collective mind, no particular source comes to mind upon hearing or seeing “big data” then no particular company can own it.

    So the good news is that big data has entered the public domain. We all own it!

  2. Doug Laney says:

    What are you, some kind of lawyer?

    (Yes, our illustrious colleague Nick is actually our go-to guy on these kind of legal issues. But not ones related to humor.)


  3. Steve Karam says:

    Maybe I can nab a mark on “Biggish Data”. Hmmm…

  4. Mark Beyer says:

    Next is Collosal data.

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