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07 Dec 2021
BY Ilse du Plessis

The Metaverse

The Metaverse

At its most simplistic level, the metaverse is the convergence of physical, digital and augmented reality.

It’s all happened so fast.

metaverse

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Facebook becomes Meta

First, there was all that buzz about Facebook changing its name to Meta. Facebook applied to register the trade mark Meta in the USA, but problems surfaced early on – it transpired that an Arizona-based retailer, Meta PCs, had got in first and put a USD20-million price tag on its US application. Whatever might happen next!

What’s particularly interesting about the change of name is that the rationale was seemingly a desire or perceived need, to prepare for the metaverse.

Nike is also preparing for the metaverse

Then there were all those articles about virtual goods, like the one telling us that “Nike is preparing to enter the Metaverse with virtual sneakers and apparel”. This article tells us that Nike has filed a US application for its trade mark in class 9 for “virtual goods namely computer programs featuring clothing, headgear, eyewear… for use online and in online virtual worlds”, as well in class 35 for “retail stores featuring virtual goods namely footwear, clothing, headgear… online retail stores services featuring virtual merchandise”.

but what exactly is the metaverse?

Lots have been published. An article entitled The metaverse and crypto, for example, tells us that the metaverse is a “digital universe that can be accessed through virtual and augmented reality”. There’s talk of the metaverse being a future iteration of the internet, made up of shared, 3-D spaces linked to a perceived virtual universe.

We’re told that in this brave new world crypto currencies will be required to provide “verifiable, immutable ownership of digital/ virtual goods and currency will be an essential component”. We’re told that blockchain will be an essential component of “cross-universe interoperability”. We’re told that non-fungible tokens (“NFTs”) will play a crucial role in giving people complete ownership of their characters and even virtual land.

the fashion world is getting excited

In an article headed Why the metaverse is fashion’s next goldmine, digital guru Ian Rogers suggests that “the metaverse is nothing but the internet breaking free from the two-dimensional barrier into this three-dimensional environment.. (one) that starts blurring more and more with our daily life”. Rogers goes on to say that “one day virtual fashion will become ubiquitous”.

According to Rogers, this is what’s in store (pun intended): “As we start transitioning more and more into the digital world, we will start consuming digital sneakers, digital makeup, digital jewellery… it’s the biggest revolution the fashion industry has seen so far”.

civic affairs and bopping

On 14 November 2021, The Daily Knowledge (theknowledge.com) told us that Seoul will be the first city to enter the metaverse: “As early as next year, residents of the city will be able to do everything from filing a civil complaint at a virtual city hall to bopping at a downtown festival by putting on virtual-reality goggles”.

what about the legal issues?

It’s early days and one UK IP lawyer is on record as saying that he doesn’t see the metaverse changing things up that much, predicting that existing remedies and solutions will be adapted to the metaverse. The UK lawyer quoted at the beginning of this article, Nick Kempton, has however, made some suggestions as to how the metaverse may impact legal issues.

Kempton kicks off by suggesting that the games industry will be a very big player in the metaverse and that it has in fact been getting ready for some time - the company Epic Games has already secured funding of USD1-billion to develop its metaverse. Kempton says that some existing video games are effectively “proto-metaverses”.

Kempton also gives some context to Nike’s trade mark applications: “We have already seen companies like Nike file trade marks to cover digital items indicating that they are already considering digital fashion allowing users to buy (and possibly resell) digital clothing for their avatars. The expectation is that many other brands will be looking at similar filing strategies going forward making class 9, 41 and 42 an even more crowded space for right-holders”.

Kempton then goes on to discuss some possible challenges for IP rights posed by the metaverse. He suggests that these issues will include:

  • Territoriality and jurisdiction – he makes the point that it may in the future be more difficult to tell what geographical markets have been targeted by a company, with no more “tell-tale indicators such as prices in local currency”.
  • Licensing – this may be challenging because the potential uses could be limitless.
  • User-generated content and the mixing of IP - users will be able to create content without limitations, whereas the interoperability of metaverses will inevitably involve the mixing of IP.
  • Enforceability – there may be more than one intermediary, making enforcement difficult.

Kudos to Kempton for being brave enough to kick off the discussion about legal issues. These are, indeed, exciting and slightly scary times. Perhaps we should end this article with some verse.

the metaverse

Augmented reality, virtual universe

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Augmented reality, virtual universe

Is this a bonus, or is it a curse?

 

Ilse du Plessis

Executive | IP

iduplessis@ENSafrica.com

+27 82 411 7547