Industrial Data Space: clear rules on data ownership are vital for Industry 4.0


The networking and availability of data are central features of the digitalization of industry. Data thus free themselves of software and hardware structures, and become independent economic goods. This opens up new opportunities for companies – if an unambiguous and accepted understanding of the term ‘ownership’ can be created.

Structures for the material world – prerequisites for the global exchange of goods and a prosperous economy – have been formed over centuries. Concepts for transferring the principles used for managing material goods to the handling of data have been developing since the mid-1990s. The differences between data as immaterial goods and material goods are also familiar, because data is not an invention of the 21st century. Intellectual property, and patents or copyrights to texts or images, have long been considered an immaterial economic factor.

Data ownership and possession

As with the infrastructure for the exchange of goods, it is also necessary to have an appropriate infrastructure for the secure exchange of data within data networks so that new economic possibilities can develop successfully. In the material world, the distinction between ownership and possession is abstract but necessary. The understanding that access to the object, i.e. possession, is not inevitably connected with ownership is accepted. There is, however, one decisive difference between the material world and the world of data. Data can be copied any number of times without losing their quality – and therefore reproduced. Technical precautions are a vital prerequisite for regulating ownership rights in the digital world. In this regard it should also be noted that the ownership rights to the original data must also be clearly regulated when data is refined. As in the material world, the value of data must be made up of the value of the original data plus the added value of its refinement. In the material world is it obvious that the book printer is only paid for printing, and not for the value of the entire intellectual property of the printed sheets.

The establishment of globally recognized framework conditions on data possession, data ownership and their transfer is necessary in order to create an efficient digital ecosystem. There is, however, a considerable difference in the possibilities of control between the material world and the world of data. The technical ease of reproducing data, and the full retention of quality thereby, means that owners face unwanted shifts in ownership that can be prevented and monitored through the application of clear rules and their technical implementation. These precautions must be set up in such a way that they are transparent and credible for all those involved in business life.

The Industrial Data Space program

A core concern of the Industrial Data Space is the digital sovereignty of the data owner in the industrial data economy. In concrete terms, the Industrial Data Space is aiming for a solution for the above-mentioned fundamental problems of data ownership, transfer of data ownership, and the associated transfers of possession, and it is propagating a proposal for technical framework conditions. Whereby it focuses on the following elements:

• providing an infrastructure for the secure exchange of data,

• creating concepts for the data owner to ‘attach’ conditions of use to the data,

• establishing a basis of trust between the data supplier and the data user (through certification),

• protecting the interests of SMEs through consolidation of their purchasing power,

• reducing legal expenses (particularly for SMEs) through the establishment of standard licensing models,

• establishing standardized price models, and

• setting up a trustworthy third party for arbitration and for determining the value of the data.

Considered purely technically, so-called Industrial Data Space Connectors would be necessary at every participating business partner. The aim of the Connectors – in the form of a software package – would be to ensure that the necessary rules were technically implementable and could be technically checked.

The actual transfer of data between business partners would take place using sufficiently encrypted data sets. The administration of encryption and access control, and thus the use of the data, is – with the agreement of the particular data owner – an important aspect of the technical solution proposed by the Industrial Data Space. The data need not be located at a central location for a cross-company transfer of data. It could be provided decentrally under the control of the supplying company from a self-service ‘Data Lake’, for example.


A clearing house (broker) could be integrated as an optional independent party that would check whether Owner A is really the Owner A of the data, and whether the destination of the data transfer really is the actual Destination B intended by Owner A. In this regard, fixed rules for the use of the data would also be transferred – in the form of a declaration. The vision is to use such a system to transparently implement the type of data use permitted by the owner. Data use may be a single use followed by deletion of the data, multiple use, or a complete transfer of data ownership. The permitted time slot for the data transaction, and possibly a return transaction, would also be transferred, describing the data owner’s predetermined payment for use of the data or for transfer of data ownership, whereby legally defined data exchange rules would be implemented technically.


As in the material world, where ownership is protected within a range of different security levels – from simple locks to high-security safes – in the Industrial Data Space there would also be a hierarchy of security levels from unprotected to high security.

Lower security levels in the Industrial Data Space would be restricted to the monitoring of transactions. The vision for higher security levels is the possible examination of whether only the authorized transaction is carried out and no other. In the highest security version, the data themselves would not be transferred. In this case, only the desired function to be applied to the data would be transferred. Whereby the result of this function would be fed back. The data owner would not only retain ownership but also possession.


To sum up: the Industrial Data Space could form the basis for an open, generally recognized, technical process for all data transactions. The setting up of such a level of trust with the suffix “Made in the EU” could not only substantially support the global exchange of data, and thus the growth of future data-driven business models, but also make simple value creation possible on a broad scale.

Bernhard Müller 

Senior Vice President Industry 4.0

Bernhard Müller has been on the Management Board of SICK AG since 2009 and responsible for the topic Industry 4.0 since 2015. He was involved in the qualification of data transmission in the worldwide networks of telecommunications providers for more than 25 years.


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