The Metaverse, often characterized as the next level in the evolution of the Internet, is intended to be a virtual-reality, three-dimensional environment where users are able to interact meaningfully with not only other users but with the virtual environment itself. Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook (re-branded as Meta) has characterized the Metaverse as “an embodied internet where you’re in the experience, not just looking at it.” Users will by way of avatars and other mechanisms be able to interact in a parallel universe to access three-dimensional environments for gaming and other activities, decentralized commerce, social media, authenticated digital assets such as non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and cryptocurrency, and others. So, participants can engage in any number of virtual reality activities and transactions with others at any conceivable virtual location, whether based in reality or in fantasy.
These activities could include virtual tourism, dining, shopping, gaming, and others. Retailers, advertisers, game platform creators, and similar enterprises have already realized the enormous potential of the Metaverse as a commercial space. Similar to the broad reach of the modern Internet, the Metaverse offers the opportunity to reach a global customer base in real or near-real time. However, the Metaverse holds the promise of reaching that global base in a virtual, three-dimensional environment analogous to real world face-to-face interactions.
Virtual commercial enterprises in the Metaverse may include virtual retail spaces offering virtual products such as branded clothing and shoes for avatars, virtual “real estate” concerns, virtual restaurants offering virtual food and beverages as well as real foods/beverages for home delivery, advertising, etc. Indeed, a broad swathe of major retailers and social media entities such as Meta, Nike, Victoria’s Secret, Pumpernickel Associates (Panera), McDonalds, Ralph Lauren, Alibaba, Visa, American Express, and others, recognizing the commercial potential of the Metaverse, have already taken steps to establish a Metaverse presence. Virtual items such as NFTs have sold for extraordinary prices.
As in the early days of the Internet the nascent Metaverse is in some respects a legal “Wild West” where issues of data security, privacy, censorship, regulatory enforcement, taxation, and cyber fraud/crime remain unsettled. Equally, specifics of treatment of certain Intellectual Property (IP) rights in the Metaverse are unsettled. IP protection and associated considerations of enforcement and licensing become even more complex when one considers the likely ease with which consumers, virtual retailers, and infringers will be able to transition across different platforms in this virtual universe. However, there are various mechanisms for IP protection of which rights owners may avail themselves to protect their IP in the Metaverse.