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Digital Rights For Business Data

Licensing tools set and enforce rules for protecting and exposing content

Digital-rights management vendors have stumbled upon a potentially significant discovery: While they've focused on the most obvious market for their wares -- the entertainment industry -- a larger opportunity may await them in protecting and enabling business-information models.

The digitization of business data is forcing companies to expose intellectual assets in ways they'd never dreamed of a few years ago, and that can mean unprecedented vulnerability. Whether the goal is to prevent employees from accessing something they're not supposed to see, protect information from competitors, or just make sure customers get only what they've paid for, companies seek increasingly sophisticated methods of controlling data access.

Increasingly, digital-rights management software is the technology of choice. Not only does it give companies the granular access control they seek, but it's also transparent to users. Demand for this software in business-to-business settings will continue to grow as the volume of intellectual property mushrooms. In research published this month, Gartner characterizes business-to-business content protection as being more mature than its business-to-consumer entertainment counterpart. It recommends that in 2003 digital-rights management vendors concentrate on B-to-B deployments while keeping an eye out for breakthrough business models in the business-to-consumer arena.

Digital-rights management software is a licensing tool that sets and enforces rules governing the use of digital content, interacting with about every part of a company's information architecture. Some vendors, among them Microsoft and InterTrust Technologies Corp., sell a client-server setup in which a license server dishes out licenses that dictate access to content with the licenses stored on users' desktops to determine what they can see, change, and share.

Steam is building for a digital-rights management standard called XrML, a subset of XML that lets rights administrators use an editing tool to create plain-text licenses that are placed on a user's hard drive and dictate access and rights from there with no server needed. The champion of XrML is a company called ContentGuard Inc. Its founders invented XrML in the mid-1990s while at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center.

Until recently, digital-rights management tools were designed primarily for Hollywood and the music industry. The focus was on letting content owners dictate how digital assets sold online are used, as well as divvying up proceeds of those sales by computing which rights holders are due what percentage of the royalties. In the past year, businesses have begun to demonstrate the value digital-rights management can bring to all types of digital assets.

Celera Genomics Group has been out front, using digital-rights management to power an online business model for selling access to sensitive intellectual property. Founded in 1998, the company, which specializes in therapeutic discovery, has assembled a catalog of information on genomes that make up human beings and mice.

Early on, Celera began to provide subscription-based access to its genomic information through its online Celera Discovery System. The majority of customers access a Web-based version, but Celera also offers proprietary application programming interfaces for an alternative access method. The Lightweight Directory Access Protocol directory that its homegrown application accessed to authenticate subscribers proved unreliable, blocking access to the information. So the company scrapped those tools a year ago, turning to eMeta Corp.'s eRights, an E-commerce application that employs a healthy dose of rights management to handle authentication and access. Celera wouldn't divulge what it paid for eRights, but a typical deployment costs between $150,000 and $200,000, and requires either developer and system-administrator training or professional services.

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