What is the most valuable resource in the world? For the past centuries, the majority would say oil. But with the advent of the information age, today's answer may be different: as they say, data is the new oil.

Big data is fueling and shaping the 21st century from all aspects. The volume of data generated in the past two years has exceeded those throughout human history.

On top of that, Big data could be the key to a stunning future: self-driving vehicles, more effective medical treatment, and even precise crime prevention - a world of Person of Interest coming into reality!

It is foreseeable that future economic and social development will be built on the widespread application of big data technologies. Data is becoming not only the engine of economic innovation, but also an important resource for any enterprise to gain or maintain a competitive edge.

The July 2016 draft of the Civil Code of the People's Republic of China sought to make data a new type of intellectual property.

However, the final version of the law did not grant such protection. Legislators chose to take it more cautiously as to whether data is included in the intellectual property mechanism.

The intellectual property protection mechanism grants the right holders exclusive rights to commercialize the use of innovations within a prescribed period, with certain exceptions. The objective of granting this temporary monopoly is to motivate creators to share their creations with the public and to stimulate creative activity.

On the contrary the inventor can choose to keep his invention secret and protect it as trade secret.

In a big data context, raw data is more of a factual record, and the collection and aggregation of data itself cannot substantially change the value of data. A large amount of data may be valueless if it is perishable, outdated, imprecise, or has other weaknesses or flaws.

Prior to realizing their value through transactions or services based on data products, individual pieces of data acquire their value through a series of screening, classification, processing, and consolidation.

It is uncertain whether the data in a specific case are the results of intellectual activities and whether the data are valuable. Therefore, there are doubts about whether data in general is eligible for intellectual property mechanisms.

Moreover, there are concerns that if the rights to data are awarded intellectual property protection, data collectors or data developers may manipulate users' personal information through data rights.

When considering the protection of data, we must make a distinction between raw data derived from individuals and processed data. The former is closely associated with individuals and has obvious identity characteristics, and should be protected by privacy, whereas the latter is a creation of big data technologies, that requires not only labor but also economic investment.

In light of the definition of intellectual property, it seems feasible to incorporate certain types of processed data into the protection of intellectual property. This applies to data that has lost its identity element and formed the creation of intellectual activity through processing.

Granting such protection may provide incentives for data sharing and innovation of big data technologies, which goes in line with the purpose of intellectual property rights.We can observe that big data technologies are advancing at an increasing speed.

Now, suppose we all agree that data should be protected under the intellectual property mechanism, far more questions arise, such as whether the classical intellectual property system is still relevant for data. We will explore this in the next article.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.