During the last months, patent applications related to the Metaverse have experienced an increase due to the continuous expansion of this field, as many High-Tech companies wanted to ensure the protection of the technology they are developing.
The main interest of those companies concerns the development of both software and hardware devices bringing together different aspects of social media as well as Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) user experience, to make it more realistic. In addition to this, high tech companies have filed patent applications involving blockchain technology, that can be applied in the real world, as well as in the Metaverse. The purpose pursued by the companies that are requesting these patents is to enhance the users’ experience in the virtual world, to make it more realistic, and thus to expand their business to the Metaverse.
For instance, patent applications have been filed to protect the technology that tracks the eye movements and the facial expressions of the users, in order to improve the VR experience in the Metaverse.
Which items are eligible for patent protection?
In general terms, patents can be granted for either hardware components or for software processes, although the latter can prove to be more difficult in Europe. Generally speaking, if they provide a technical solution to a technical problem, then it is possible to patent them.
As regards hardware patents, they are usually sought in relation to devices used to enter into the Metaverse, like Virtual or Augmented Reality glasses. As our readers can imagine, before this whole thing of the metaverse started, there were already patents protecting these AR/VR technologies. Nevertheless, more applications have been filed, thus introducing some technological changes in order to comply with the novelty and inventive step requirements.
Computer programs (software- related patents) – generally speaking, computer programs per se are not patentable in Europe, whereas computer-implemented methods are. If a software-based invention can be proven to have a technical application or implementation, then patents can be an option.
Indeed, the difference relies on whether the industrial application requirement is fulfilled, in the sense that if the computer program brings a technical solution to a technical problem, it can be patentable. And of course, the invention needs to comply with the usual requirements for patent registration: novelty, inventive step and industrial application.
For this reason, following the Enlarged Board of Appeal of the European Patent Office (EPO)’s opinion, it is possible to obtain a patent for a computer program, by including in the patent claims some technical features.
Indeed the patents developed for the Metaverse will need to fulfil the same requirements as for every patent, - i.e. novelty, inventive step and industrial applicability.
Now we are going to examine the most interesting cases of patents filed by High Tech companies, to protect new technologies applicable to the Metaverse.
Apple Inc. already filed in 2021 a patent application before the USPTO (United States Patent and Trademark Office) related to the Metaverse, consisting in a technical solution that will allow to exclude individuals who have violated the interaction rules established. In other words, the technical solution designed by Apple will allow users to block an avatar that insulted or attacked another one, just like on social media platforms. In this way Apple seeks to obtain protection for its technical solution specifically for the Metaverse.
From its side, Meta has already filed patent applications to alter the users’ experience in the Metaverse. This means that the technology developed by Meta aims at increasing the engagement of users, by allowing them to customise the objects and locations that can be found in the Metaverse. By doing this, Meta seeks to enhance the interaction between users and the virtual world.
In addition to this, another patent includes an “avatar personalisation engine” that reproduce the appearance of a real person into an avatar, only by using one picture. Again, this engine will serve to make the users’ experience even more realistic when interacting in the Metaverse.
Moreover, another patent was filed by the company, consisting of a device that is able to track the users’ facial expression and based on the response, will adapt the content displayed. Therefore, the objective pursued by those inventions seems to be designed to allow advertisers to launch more targeted advertisements of their products in the Metaverse.
Now the USPTO will have to take a decision on the admissibility of these applications, but it seems that these inventions are fulfilling at least the technical effect requirement.
Back in 2019, Nike already obtained a patent for including blockchain technology to their physical sneakers, hence when a consumer would buy a pair of shoes, they would automatically obtain a token that stated the ownership of the product. In this way, the company sought to foster the authenticity of their shoes.
Now the fashion brand RTFKT Studios launched Nike’s CryptoKicks. The Cryptokicks are a collection of NFTs sneakers, that can be customised by inserting skin bias. In this way, users will be able to purchase the sneaker but also the different skins to customise the NFT. Once purchased, the user will be able to virtually enjoy its brand-new shoes in Nikeland, the Metaverse created by the company.
This article may be quite relevant for SMEs, as a first approach to the Metaverse. To sum up, if your company has the intention to start a commercial activity in the Metaverse that involves the use of a new technology eligible for patent protection, it would be advisable to obtain a patent. As many patent applications have already been filed, and patents rely on a first-come, first-served basis, if a company wants to expand its business to this new digital world, it is important to file the application as soon as possible, in order to obtain protection before your competitors. An alternative would be to obtain a licence from the patent holder, that allows your company to use an existing technology to start your commercial activity in the Metaverse.
Nevertheless, there are many questions around the creations performed in the Metaverse itself. For instance, as our readers might know, patents are territorial rights meaning that the protection is only granted in the countries or regions where the patent has been requested. Therefore, what will happen with the inventions that are generated in the Metaverse? What will happen with inventions that are created by an avatar in the Metaverse and that can be used both in the Metaverse itself as well as in the real world? Could those inventions be patentable?
The debate is still open!
Stay tuned for the next episodes!
30 May 2022
European Innovation Council and SMEs Executive Agency
Source: Intellectual Property in the Metaverse. Episode III: Patents (europa.eu)