The maritime industry is going through a major digital transformation. Vast amounts of data are being generated by sensors and systems on ships, and owners and operators are using this data to drive operational efficiency and decision-making like never before. However, uncertainties around who actually owns and controls all of this data have created challenges that are slowing the pace of digitalisation.
The concept of data ownership does not equate to the ownership of a physical asset. If you purchase and own a thermometer, you have the right to control access to the temperature readings from that instrument. But you do not inherently own the factual data, the ambient temperature itself, that is being measured. Similarly, a shipowner does not automatically own data about the ship’s position, course, speed, machinery temperatures, fuel levels, etc, just because they own the vessel.
Historically, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) of maritime technologies have frequently collected operational data from their products installed on ships. This was often mutually beneficial, allowing OEMs to analyse the data to improve product designs and performance while monitoring assets for customers. Shipowners and operators granted OEMs access to data under service contracts and remote monitoring agreements.
However, shipowners now perceive greater value in the data produced by their vessels. With data analytics capabilities improving, they are less willing to automatically grant OEMs unlimited access to data from sensors and systems made by those manufacturers. At the same time, many OEMs have themselves monetised data access, selling derived analytics services and products back to shipowners but not necessarily compensating them for the raw data generated by their ships.
Much of the uncertainty around maritime technical data rights and ownership has arisen because regulations like the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation and the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 focused on personal data ownership, not machine-generated operational data from ship systems. With no clear legal frameworks in this area, contracts between OEMs and shipowners have had to govern data rights on a case-by-case basis. OEMs have often retained significant control and proprietary access rights in these deals.
In recognition of this issue for business customers across sectors, some governments are now moving to update regulations to favour more significant access to and control of device-generated data by the owners of the physical assets. For example, the proposed EU Data Act aims to ensure manufacturers provide product data to their customers when requested so companies can better leverage the data from purchased equipment for uses like analytics and monitoring. Such legal measures could significantly increase shipowners’ ability to obtain and integrate data from onboard systems supplied by OEMs.
While contracts between OEMs and shipowners will likely continue to play a key role in governing data rights, the evolution of ownership concepts for technical and operational data is underway. Increased shipowner access to and control data, supported by appropriate cyber security rules and compliance frameworks, could accelerate digitalisation across the maritime industry. Meanwhile, technical innovation and market competition may also disrupt some traditional OEM roles in the marine data economy. With more options for replacing legacy sensors and systems with open data platforms, shipowners are gaining leverage in negotiations over data rights.
For a more in depth understanding of the topics covered in this article, refer to our latest thought leadership report titled ‘Common Interest; How the maritime industry can share data, collaborate with trust, and build a mutually beneficial digital ecosystem.’ This comprehensive guide benchmarks shipping’s progress on using digital solutions to collaborate on decarbonisation goals and shows how industry frontrunners are breaking down the technical, legal, financial and cultural barriers.