9 May 2022
Metaverse – 3 of 5 Insights
Patents already play a very important part in the modern technological world and are now to play an even bigger one.
Meta, Facebook’s parent company, already announced in order to make its place in the new Metaverse to spend $ 10 bn a year over the next decade. Other Big Tech companies such as Apple and Microsoft pursue a similar goal according to public announcements. Filing patents seems to be a mandatory piece of the common way to cash in on this fictional world. According to the Financial Times, in particular US companies have already filed several hundreds of patent applications for multiple technologies that employ the users’ biometric data for powering what the user sees and ensure that their digital avatars are animated realistically in the Metaverse. So it would not be a surprise that there will be players who aim to making money through licencing the patents, but also through using them to place even more personalized ads.
Not surprisingly after the above, the business model in the Metaverse is commerce led, assumingly even more than it applies for the analogous world. Looking a bit deeper into the published patent filings, their diversity extends from eye and face tracking technology to body pose tracking and avatar personalisation engines that even use a so-called skin replicator. The sum of the patents points to a virtual world, in which a natural person in the real world can be identically cloned to the virtual world, including every skin pore and distinctive body, eye and face movement a person has.
Patents recently already granted include "modifying an interface displaying video content received from users participating in a video exchange session based on input from a participating user", "augmented reality collaboration system with physical device", "augmented reality collaboration system" and the list goes on and on. While not all patents are used in practice yet, the goal seems evident – building a networked Metaverse as a new place to commercialize.
While especially in the case of trade marks the discussions and problems of the large number of applications mainly take place in the Metaverse, the discussions around patents rather concern the real world.
When it comes to the question of which potential patents will be applied for and under which circumstances they will be granted, a rough distinction can be made between two categories: software- and hardware-related patents. Depending on whether the patent concerns a computer-implemented method or a hardware component, different prerequisites are required.
When it comes to hardware patents for the Metaverse, they often comprise screens or gear for entering the Metaverse such as VR glasses, sensors, processors or storage mediums. While there are already many existing patents for VR and AR hardware, many more have already been filed. The major criteria for the patent to be granted will still be the need for novelty and inventiveness. Nevertheless, subtle technological changes can lead to the invention being patentable as such, as can be seen from the abundance of patents already granted around the world.
In contrast, the approval for software-related patents is more complex. As most software for the Metaverse will be used for simulating the virtual world, inventions for simulation programmes are rather difficult to obtain in a reasonable way for the EPO states, but these restrictions do not apply globally. Inventions for software are much easier obtainable in the U.S. for example, where some real “software patents” for the Metaverse have already been filed. This possible lack of protection for “simulation inventions” could lead to issues regarding licence requirements or infringement issues in e.g. EPO states further down the road, as the Metaverse is accessible globally.
With more and more participants, the use and importance of the Blockchain technology and especially cryptocurrencies in the Metaverse, infringements in the virtual world will most likely become harder. Who is liable? Who is the real infringer? Who can I make a claim against, if the infringer cannot be determined? Which law is applicable and what is the jurisdiction? These questions and more will need to be faced.
With all that is happening so quickly in the Metaverse, it is difficult to foresee what extent and what possibilities will await companies. The extent of the patent density is not yet discernible, since on the one hand there is an abundance of existing patents, as well as newly granted patents and on the other hand more patents that can still be expected to be filed in the future and all that in a rather small technological context.
One thing that is certain is that more patents in respect to hardware and software components for the Metaverse are expected to be granted leading to a more and more complex patent landscape with maybe less distinctiveness and further issues regarding infringement claims.
It appears to be crucial for companies wanting to enter the Metaverse, to act promptly if they want to save their spot in the virtual world. Whether it is by acquiring licences or filing patents themselves, the time to act starts clearly now, as can be seen from the flood of patents already filed for and the amount of turnover that is already made and even more to be expected. Also is now the time to at least try to get ahead of the new flood of patents, so that companies can safely navigate their way through a dense patent landscape. The Metaverse is going to be a profitable place for companies willing to understand it and act on the arising possibilities. The Metaverse has potential to reshape businesses – particularly marketing and sales – as we know it, making it an important pillar in today’s business. It will be exciting to see how the virtual world of the Metaverse and the analogous world of patents will fit together.
Authors: Dr. Jan Phillip Rektorschek, Eva Steinmüller
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