Restrictions on data sharing

Public sharing of research data should not conflict with the securing of intellectual property rights nor with research transfer opportunities.

Confidentiality as a consequence of securing Intellectual Property

Research data may be the subject of (technology) transfer efforts by the university as set out in the relevant legislation (cf. codex higher education and general regulation on collaboration and research of the Ghent University Association) if such research data may be suitable for commercialization or – more specifically - if such data may be protected by intellectual property rights.

In this case, the research data must be reported to the UGent TechTransfer office (octrooien@ugent.be) prior to any further dissemination (publication, presentation, …). Pending the TechTransfer procedure, such research data cannot be released for public access (embargo).

The embargo on the public access (dissemination) of research data shall be maintained at least until the essential steps in securing intellectual property (e.g. the filing of a patent application) have been taken. The researcher involved and the IP team of the TechTransfer office shall make the necessary arrangements.

Confidentiality as a consequence of contracts with third parties

Contracts between the University and third parties, such as research or service agreement, can impose restrictions on the researcher’s freedom to share his research data with the outside world. Special attention is needed if the research activities took place within such contractual framework, or if any specific contracts were entered into that are relevant to the research.

Contracts with third parties very often contain clauses restricting or outright prohibiting further sharing of research data:

  • Contracts may impose obligations to keep research data confidential for a specific period of time. It is not uncommon that such contracts even stipulate who can or cannot specifically access the research data.
  • Contracts may partially or completely assign ownership of certain research data to the other party or stipulate that this party obtains an exclusive license on the use of such data. These clauses could imply that the rights of the University to the use and dissemination of these research data are strictly limited or even cease to exist altogether.

Under these conditions, any further dissemination and sharing of research data could be either impossible or at the very least strictly conditioned. If such data are shared without careful checking of the relevant contractual obligations, the university could be held liable.

If you have any questions concerning the contractual obligations potentially limiting your freedom to disseminate or share your research data with the outside world, please contact the Legal Team of the TechTransfer Office (contracten@ugent.be).

Other classified data needing special attention

The guidelines concerning classified data apply to both the original research data as well as to any research data received from third parties. In addition to the general guidelines concerning classified data, researchers have to comply with possible additional contractual restrictions imposed on the university in those cases where third parties supply the research data.

Most research data at Ghent University can be classified in one of the following categories:

  • General data (non-confidential – unclassified): the consequences of a potential uncontrolled dissemination or sharing are zero or negligible. These data may be made public without any potential damage to the parties involved or to the university.
  • Classified data: the consequences of a potential uncontrolled dissemination or sharing of this type of data are significant and negative. Access to such data should only be granted to specific persons (or systems). Any further dissemination of classified information is either illegal or damaging to its owner, to the parties involved or to the interests and reputation of Ghent University. An example of such classified data is any data covered by legislation protecting privacy of natural persons.

In a limited number of cases, data falls within the following categories:

  • Restricted use / Sensitive Unclassified: the consequences of potential uncontrolled dissemination or sharing of information or data are limited or within reasonable limits. Any further dissemination would cause few problems or operational discomfort to the owner of the data, to the parties involved or to the University. This category nestles in between the “General” and “Sensitive” and is used to categorize internal, non-critical information.
  • Strictly classified / Secret: the consequences of potential uncontrolled dissemination or sharing of information or data are severe and can cause serious damage to the safety, business methods or reputation of Ghent University.

If you have any doubts as to the confidential nature of information or data, you can always confer with your senior executive. If the information is subject to contracts with third parties, you can contact the Legal Team of the TechTransfer Office (contracten@ugent.be). Students can contact GUIDe (for non-ICT related questions) or the helpdesk of the ICT Department (for ICT related issues).