There’s been a lot of buzz in the media lately about an item I’ve been following myself: namely, the blizzard of intellectual property filings hamburger Titan McDonald’s has put in front of the US Patent & Trademark Office to protect their IP in “the metaverse.” In some respects, the move to safeguard IP regardless of where it appears was an entirely predictable development which could and should have been predicted the moment social media companies like Facebook and search engines like Google started to throw their weight into boosting the metaverse. Its potential to blur and blend the lines between what we consider “normal” reality and the online world has given rise to an entirely new glossary that challenges our perceptions about the limits of the online world and what human interaction will look like.
In other regards, the metaverse, and the hype surrounding it, is a shocking plot twist, given how dismally early attempts at virtual reality and reality augmented by digital devices…and the impact the metaverse will have on how IP is protected, litigated, licensed, and used can reasonably be expected to be far greater than a simple headline could ever suggest.
But what IS the Metaverse?
If Internet 2.0, which gave us Amazon, online grocery delivery and Netflix, is the “Internet of Things,” then Internet 3.0 is the metaverse, where virtual and augmented reality bleed over into our everyday lives. A kind of Matrix in reverse, if you will. Imagine a world where you can put on your VR headset, dress up in the latest fashions from your favorite designers, catch a virtual concert, even order a hamburger—all without leaving your home! That is the metaverse at its heart: a digital mirror of “meatspace,” populated by brands and artists you know, recognize and crave.
At its simplest, the McDonald’s filings, and those of other companies like clothing designer Ralph Lauren and lingerie megabrand Victoria’s Secret, are aimed at ensuring that their designs, recipes, formulae and other IP are kept secure even in the metaverse. This means if a customer “walks” into a virtual McDonald’s and orders a meal, they know they’re getting the real thing—and I do mean “real” in every sense of the word, because one of the McDonald’s filings was intended to trademark a cyberspace McDonald’s that delivers actual food to customers. Think Doordash with more complex tech backing it.
Likewise, Victoria’s Secret and Ralph Lauren were shrewd to get their filings in early because this means only authorized, “authentic” digital versions of their designs can be purchased or worn by users’ avatars. This in turn safeguards their brand reputation and, like McDonald’s, assures the customer that the digital property they’re paying for is the genuine article from the official source.
But how does corporate thinking get from online hamburgers to virtual lingerie—and why would you want to?
Some of the thinking behind this can be explained through the concept of non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, which I’ve talked about previously. I imagine that sales of both real-world and digital goods and services would be monitored, tracked, and verified as genuine through the use of NFTs or similar blockchain-related technology. It also doesn’t seem far-fetched that cryptocurrency will really hit its stride in Web 3.0, becoming the favored medium of exchange for purchases ranging from that slick new jacket that’s three months from the real-world market to snacks, games, burgers—just about anything and everything you can buy in meatspace.
We might even see non-food brands incorporating the delivery model McDonald’s is planning to cash in on.
Imagine walking your avatar into an online boutique, giving your measurements to a virtual associate, paying, and receiving the actual items you bought in the mail in a few days. This could pose the first real existential threat to Amazon’s dominance of the online marketplace, leaving room for Meta (formerly Facebook), its competitors or as-yet-unknown players to take control of the field.
Thirty years ago, when Web 1.0 was just catching on, these concepts were the stuff of science fiction. Instantaneous video communication, Internet that costs just pennies a day to access, the ability to buy and sell things easily and without hassle, all belonged more to The Jetsons and Star Trek than our reality. Then Web 2.0, the Internet of Things, came along and proved that the future was now—and it works. In that regard, the metaverse is nothing more than a logical next step in the evolution of the Internet.
One of the surprising things about these filings is that more companies haven’t already gotten in on the act. For example, coffee behemoth Starbucks and sandwich juggernaut Subway have so far (to the best of my knowledge) remained out of the fray to be the first to stake their claims in the metaverse. I think, however, this is going to change very quickly as companies start to demonstrate the utility and importance of securing their IP in the online world, in much the same way that many companies that were slow to adapt to the changes of Internet 1.0 didn’t survive the dawn of Internet 2.0. Those companies that don’t move to protect their IP will soon find themselves drowned in imitations, knockoffs, and fakes, or lose market share entirely as the “cool kids” abandon their brands for those companies who stay abreast of the trends.
In my practice, I’ve already seen a lot of these filings come across my desk. I expect there will be a lot more as the metaverse gains more of a following, and greater traction in the market.
But for now, the McDonald’s down the street, my favorite concert venue, and the stores I buy my suits from don’t seem to be in any immediate danger.
John Rizvi is a Registered and Board Certified Patent Attorney, Adjunct Professor of Intellectual Property Law, best-selling author, and featured speaker on topics of interest to inventors and entrepreneurs (including TEDx).
His books include “Escaping the Gray” and “Think and Grow Rich for Inventors” and have won critical acclaim including an endorsement from Kevin Harrington, one of the original sharks on the hit TV show – Shark Tank, responsible for the successful launch of over 500 products resulting in more than $5 billion in sales worldwide. You can learn more about Professor Rizvi his patent law practice at www.ThePatentProfessor.com
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I’ve helped hundreds of inventors successfully prosecute their patent applications, from initial filing to final award and look forward to helping you with your new idea.