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What is the Metaverse and how will it affect my business?

‘Metaverse’ is the new buzzword but what does it really mean and how will it affect my business?

For most people, the first time the word ‘metaverse’ probably reached their consciousness was in October 2021 when Mark Zuckerberg announced that his company, formerly known as Facebook, was being renamed “Meta”. In the rebrand press conference, Zuckerberg explained that “We believe the metaverse will be the successor of the mobile internet”.

In a world where the internet plays an ever-growing presence in our lives, can this really be true and, if so, how will it affect business and what steps can you take to stay ahead of the game?

What is it?

In very simple terms, the ‘metaverse’ can be described as a 3D version of the internet – a digital environment that uses a combination of virtual and augmented reality software to allow users to participate in immersive experiences online.

Virtual reality software (usually accessed via a headset) can be used to create a completely virtual environment to simulate real-life experiences. By contrast, augmented realty software adds to an existing environment by superimposing images and/or animations on real objects, usually via a phone or glasses.

Metaverse environments are currently provided by various platforms, some of the most famous being Decentraland, The Sandbox and Roblox. However, as the technology (and consumer appetite) develops, it is likely that more metaverse platforms will emerge and an ever increasing number of brands will use metaverse technology as part of their business strategy.

Although it may seem like something of the future, it is becoming increasingly popular with brands and consumers alike. Analysis by Arden Partners shows private investment in UK virtual reality companies firms increased in 2021 by 72% from 2020 levels; investors put more than £150m of capital into UK virtual reality companies during the past year. Dolce & Gabbana and Estée Lauder were recently contributors to the first ever Metaverse Fashion Week and both HSBC and JPMorgan Chase have invested in plots of virtual land on metaverse platforms. According to MetaMetric Solutions, virtual land sales on the four main metaverse platforms reached $500m in 2021 and are expected to reach $1bn in 2022.   

How could it affect my business?

When you start to think of how this technology could affect and enhance business strategy, the possibilities are endless. A few examples of how metaverse technology could be used by businesses are:

  • To provide virtual bespoke services e.g. users could create avatars with their exact body measurements so bespoke clothing can be tailored and fitted without the need to visit a physical store.
  • To try out products before purchase e.g. using augmented reality software to visualise the items in customers’ existing environments. This would be particularly useful for large and/or high-value items e.g. sofas and beds.
  • Using virtual reality experiences for fitness classes e.g. using headsets to simulate cycling through mountain ranges.
  • Fully interactive product launches e.g. using a metaverse platform to create a completely immersive experience for the launch of a new product. If it is a perfume based on a tropical island, why not allow consumers to visit a virtual reality version of the island while experiencing the fragrance.
  • To sell virtual goods for consumers to use in a metaverse universe. This is becoming one of the most popular aspects of the metaverse for many brands e.g. Nike launched a line of virtual sneakers, some of which have sold for over six figures.
  • To sell physical goods via virtual shops e.g. consumers don’t have to visit a physical store but can enjoy an immersive experience to properly view and try out products in 3D, and then have the physical products delivered to them at home.
  • To provide education and/or training in virtual reality environments e.g. not just being talked at from a screen but can go further for example by taking part in interactive science experiments or by practising fine motor skills (such as surgery) through the use of hand tracking software.
  • To create and/or sponsor virtual reality events e.g. fashion shows/a virtual reality Oktoberfest.

There is even application for public institutions; through the use of avatars, metaverse technology could open up public services and allow for access from any location 24/7.

What should I do to prepare?

Although your business may not be about to launch within the metaverse, it is sensible to start to consider how it could affect your future strategy and take steps now, to ensure you’re in the best position.

Some points to consider are:

  • Are your trade marks up to date? Do they cover all of the goods/services you currently provide/supply and plan to provide/supply in the next 5 years? As an emerging area, it is not yet clear whether existing trade mark protection for physical goods will be sufficient to protect virtual goods in the metaverse. To be certain, you should file new marks to cover virtual goods. This is also a good time to futureproof your trade mark applications by considering what other goods/services you may be offering in the metaverse e.g. entertainment services delivered via a virtual environment. As a new market, we are already seeing that third parties are looking to enter the market before existing companies and take advantage of their brands. If it is left to late, it may be difficult to later enforce your IP rights against infringers, if you have not taken the necessary steps to protect your brand.
  • Are there visual elements of your brand that you should protect? As a visual world, there may elements of your brand that you have not previously looked to protect (e.g. the distinctive shape of products/logos or brand colours) but will have more importance within the metaverse and could be picked up and exploited by third parties.
  • What are the terms of your existing contracts, especially any which deal with the licence and/or transfer of IP rights? Are they sufficiently broad to cover use of IP in a metaverse environment, or do you want to adjust them to make clear that they are not for use within the metaverse?

If you have any questions about how to protect your business in the emerging metaverse environment, please get in touch with a member of our Intellectual Property team.

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