Cloud Applications, ELN & IP

I’ve met a number of groups who are using Commodity “Cloud” services (Google Apps, DropBox etc.) for their Lab Notebook data, and whilst it works well technically (and is always improving!), I’ve always wondered about the IP/Confidentiality issues.

I bumped into an analysis of the Terms of Service of various Cloud service providers on Neowin. It isn’t encouraging reading.

I can empathise with the providers; they are providing a generic service to a large number of users, for free or a very low price. The only way they can execute their business at that scale is to tell people “We get to see your data too, and we can re-use it or give it to other people for whatever reasons we decide”.

Unfortunately, that’s not pretty from an IP perspective. I’m no lawyer but I can’t see how some of these terms and conditions are compatible with securing a company’s IP via Patents or even Trade Secrets (let alone personal privacy).

Caveat emptor!

Interestingly Amphora have found ourselves increasingly providing Cloud-like and SaaS-centric services to our customers. We started providing PatentSafe as SaaS but then we’ve moved into providing offsite backup (using a private CrashPlan service) and other services.

In meeting this customer need, we’ve had to do it with our normal IP-centric Terms of Service – which basically means your data is private to you, and we’re only going to disclose it when you ask us (or, in the extreme, when we get a court order). That’s been hard – it has caused us to shy away from some “Cloudy” infrastructure that I know some ELN vendors have gone for, e.g. the Amazon EC2 and S3 products to name just two. Ultimately that means our costs are higher, but to do otherwise would be irresponsible.

I’d like to say this is a matter of “You get what you pay for” but it isn’t as simple as that – these commodity services are just focused on a different market. So before you get the Cloud bug in the Lab, read the Terms of Service and consider if that’s appropriate for your circumstances. When you’ve done that, check with your provider – do they run the services themselves, or do they use another platform – if they’ve got it all on Google or Amazon infrastructure (excellent technical choices! legally trickier) it is worth taking the time to understand who your contract is with and what is happening to your data.