Fact Sheet

Intellectual property for the Metaverse

Alternative Text

AIXR Team

24 Jun 2022 | 4 min read

The metaverse comprises both virtual worlds that exist on what we currently observe as the internet, and the physical world that has been augmented digitally.

People can of course interact with each other and create new content, additionally It is a growing trend in consumer and business industries, with more and more content and companies incorporating some form of metaverse interaction.

As the metaverse expands, so does the need to protect the intellectual property within it.

However, Metaverse IP can take many forms, ranging from the design of avatars and 3D environments, the augmentations that will forever be persistent in the real world and the code that powers virtual worlds.

Why this fact sheet is important:

  • Developers and business owners need to be aware of the different types of IP that can exist in the metaverse and how to protect them.
  • Understand that a broad understanding of international law is required as you can expect applications of this technology to cross borders.
  • Know how the legislation may be changing to accommodate the metaverse

Please note that the following is for broad context only and should not be considered legal advice. Please connect with an AIXR membership officer to have localized information.

Copyright

Copyright law applies to any original creative work, including works of art, literature, music and software code. In the context of the metaverse, copyright can apply to avatar designs, 3D environments and any user-generated content.

Copyright protection is automatic in most jurisdictions around the world and does not require registration. However, registering copyright can be beneficial as it makes it easier to prove ownership and enforce your rights.

If someone creates an original work inside the metaverse and another person reproduces or shares it without permission, they could be committing copyright infringement. The same goes for if a work generated outside the metaverse is introduced to a platform without authorization from the copyright holder.

The technology goes both ways. In the case of augmented reality, challenges may even arise over where a user may placing virtual objects. i.e placing their art work on the physical building of a well known building.

If somebody faces infringement, they can take enforcement action though there may be difficulties like identifying the real identity of the infringer since blockchain grants privacy. Additionally, users might not accept terms and conditions that would exonerate platforms like Metaverse from liability in case of user infringement.

Many copyright challenges will come from NFTs.

When someone buys or sells an NFT, it’s important to understand that the NFT only represents ownership of the metadata/software code – not the copyright of the work. HAving robust terms and conditions around this and contractual agreements in the form of a smart contract may be applicable here.

Patent protection

Patent law protects inventions that are new, non-obvious and useful. Inventions that could be protected by patent in the metaverse include game mechanics, algorithms and hardware.

To obtain patent protection, an inventor must file a patent application with a national patent office. The process can be costly and time-consuming, but a granted patent usually provides strong protection for 20 years or more.

In Many countries, you can’t patent a computer program itself, but you might be able to patent a method that’s implemented by a computer program. To do this, you’ll need to show that the invention has a technical application or implementation.

As an example Apple filed a patent application for a Metaverse-related technology that would allow users to block avatars that have broken interaction rules, similar to how social media platforms currently operate. This would give Apple protection for its technology specifically within the Metaverse.

However, as many applications have already been filed, particularly around hardware, one option would be to obtain a license from the patent holder that allows your company to use an existing technology.

Trademark protection

Trademarks are signs used in commerce to distinguish goods or services from those of other businesses. In the context of the metaverse, trademarks can apply to avatar names, logos and catchphrases.

Trade mark protection is obtained by filing a trade mark application with a national trade mark office. A registered trade mark gives its owner exclusive rights to use the mark in relation to the goods or services for which it is registered.

It is currently questionable whether or not existing trade mark law and classification systems would apply to the metaverse. This is a complex issue, with a lot of implications for content creators and intellectual property owners and the legal framework has not currently kept up.

If you want to operate within the metaverse, it’s important to be aware of this when filing for trademarks. Many businesses currently have been advised to make sure they include the relevant classes for virtual goods and services.

There are many other key areas of IP protection in relation to immersive technology, web3 and real time that should be considered. The law is constantly changing and is different based on the registered address of the company.

It will be no surprise to see the legal framework drastically change over the next few decades.

About the author:

AIXR is an independent, community first, not for profit organisation that exists to support individuals and companies of all sizes as the International trade body for immersive technology industries. AIXR or, The Academy of International Extended Reality, hosts the VR Awards annually. AIXR’s mission is to support individuals and companies in the immersive industry by endorsing, inspiring, and enabling innovators through removing barriers to entry and connecting a diverse collection of trades together.

Pardon the interruption

Sign up to our newsletter to receive updates on everything XR.

Thanks, we'll be in touch!