Court rules in favour of Liberty in row with Discovery

Liberty says the court concluded that customers’ data from Vitality belongs to them and they are free to use it how they wish.
Image: Moneyweb

South Africa’s High Court has dismissed a case from insurer Discovery against rival Liberty, who it had argued was infringing on their trademarks and competing unlawfully, Liberty said on Thursday.

Discovery launched its case last year over Liberty‘s use of data from its Vitality programme, which offers users discounts on premiums and other rewards for good behaviour, such as buying healthy food and exercising.

Read: Liberty says it is not using Discovery brand unlawfully

Liberty has developed its own wellness programme that rewards customers for healthy behaviour, including by allowing them to contribute data from recognised external programmes, such as Vitality, to generate a score with Liberty. This then helps determine the price of the customer’s policy.

Liberty said the court concluded that customers’ data from Vitality belongs to them and they are free to use it how they wish.

“This judgement is a great victory for our customers as they can derive significant benefits from using their own wellness data,” Liberty executive David Jewell said in a statement.

Hylton Kallner, CEO of Discovery South Africa, said while the result was disappointing, Discovery respects the decision and does not intend to appeal.

“We hold Liberty in high regard as a competitor but felt and remain deeply of the view that using our IP without our consent or paying anything for its use and benefits, is morally questionable,” he said in a statement, adding Discovery has taken steps to protect Vitality’s intellectual property.

The Vitality programme has helped make Discovery one of South Africa’s most popular insurers, and many rivals, including banks trying to push into insurance, have created similar offerings to try to compete.

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“This judgement is a great victory for our customers as they can derive significant benefits from using their own wellness data,” Liberty executive David Jewell said in a statement.

How ridiculous. Wellness data is obviously private and ‘belongs’ to customers, but how does that now extend to allowing a corporate competitor like Liberty to openly benefit off the back off the hard work and tech of Discovery Vitality? And that is exactly what they are doing – punting their own failing Liberty Life product on the back of this. Gosh, it now seems they also want healthier lives on their books. What a surprise. And this after so many years of knocking Vitality and wellness- integrated products. It is frankly a disgrace and a clear admission of failure by Liberty. Can they not be bothered to set up their own system of monitoring and rewarding healthy behavior?

You do not have to be a fan of Discovery – I am NOT affiliated to them in any way – to understand that this is a poor decision which penalizes and discourages innovation and hard work and rewards intellectual theft.

I don’t know the full details, but as far as I am aware, Liberty only wanted to know your vitality points for the year – not exactly a state secret. I see some people post this on social media.

Kudos to Discovery for a mature response to the judgement; Liberty’s use of the word ‘victory’ is less palatable.

Seems to be as much a case of morally questionable opportunism on the part of Liberty as negligence or tardy T&Cs/product design on the part of Discovery.

This is typically Discovery my wife has had a medical condition for over 20 years. She has been to so many hospitals under the discovery favoured hospitals. It has cost Discovery thousands of rand`s. She went to Sunninghill hospital which does not boot lick Discovery and had to pay R8200.00 extra which Discovery refuse to pay even though the specialist was able to diagnose her problem which nobody else had been able to do for 20 years. This has saved them thousands of rand`s and more if anyone else had misdiagnosed her. We had to loan the money from my daughter to be able to get to see the specialist. Discovery should be paying us the consumer for our data which they are using to enrich themselves. Well done Liberty

Quite interesting. If I decide to change GP’s it is perfectly legal to ask for my personal file from the previous doctor and hand it to the new one. The information pertains to me and giving it to the next doctor is of my own volition benefit.

I often get spam calls from people wanting to sell me anything from short term insurance to Greenback Lottery cards or investment opportunities in China. They bought my personal information from companies that I have been doing business with and I don’t like it. Now we have individuals who are peddling, as it were, their own data files to get a better deal from a competitor and Discovery don’t like it.

“morally questionable”… What a joke coming from Discovery, the masters of smoke and mirrors.

Not that its relevant as the finding has occurred but the issue here is the difference between data and information. I think the court stuffed up and no I’m not a Discovery fan.
Simply data is bits of data that individually have little meaning and are difficult to interpret. The fact you went for a run, drank 3 litres of water, had two beers on the weekend….etc. Information is the organisation of that data into a form that can be interpreted and huge investment goes into systems that can collect and organise data into information.
In my humble view the data belongs to the individual but the information output does not but obviously that argument must have failed.

This ruling opens the motherload can of worms on IP theft. Not only is it “morally questionable” it is also terrible for the economy if companies are disincentivised to invest in innovation if those rights can’t be protected.

I find it amazing how people differ in their interpretation and understanding of this article.

Liberty’s using of the client’s information was brilliant. (Google and read how Volvo captured the Superbowl audience in a similar manner a couple of seasons ago)

What I do not understand is that Discovery actually thought that they could win this case. All that they accomplished was to focus everyone’s attention on Liberty’s innovative thinking. Maybe seek better legal advice?

Maybe they need a refresher course on the laws of contract and of intellectual property.

A good idea will be copied. The better the idea, the more likely and quickly this happens.

Knowledge is power.

Discovery’s IP vests in HOW they establish a score for their clients.

The minute that score (or status) becomes known to the client, then that fact has obvious value to the client (who can shop around and leverage it to personal advantage), and competitors (who can now confidently deal with the A-grade clients that make a business worthwhile).

No different from a financial credit score.

The only answer to this IP dilemma is to keep being the leader in innovation in your field AND to leverage that in the market better than the competition.

Relying on “IP protection” is a false security. The world is rife with hyenas whose strategy from the get-go is to steal the meal YOU caught!

Just as Liberty has shown.

End of comments.

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