As part of our Spotlight series, Dion Bregman (who wears many hats at Morgan Lewis, such as deputy leader of the firm’s intellectual property practice, leader of the firm’s Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) team, managing partner of the firm's Silicon Valley office, and co-leader of the firm’s technology industry team) shares some of his meta thoughts. As a follow up to Dion’s recent participation in a panel discussion, An Introduction to the Metaverse, Dion provides insight into some important developments, issues, and opportunities, as we all continue to focus on Keeping Up with the Metaverse.
What’s something you wish more people understood about metaverses?
It’s more than just games. While it is true that some metaverses are virtual worlds in which your avatar can play a game (e.g., Minecraft, Roblox, Fortnite), there are metaverses where you can buy land, build a house, go to a live concert, meet with friends, visit an art gallery, and, yes, also play games. Go explore Decentraland, The Sandbox, or even Meta/Facebook’s Horizon Worlds if you have a virtual reality (VR) headset.
What’s something that has surprised you about metaverses?
How much money big tech and others are putting into metaverses.
What are some exciting near/mid-term metaverse opportunities (or key challenges)?
There are opportunities at each of the multiple layers of the metaverse. For example: (1) Infrastructure: One of 5G’s promises is high bandwidth communications that will facilitate access to immersive VR experiences almost everywhere. (2) Human Interface: While basic VR hardware has existed for a while, we are at the cusp of seeing new virtual, augmented, and mixed reality headsets, glasses, and other wearables. (3) Decentralization: Edge computing, AI chipsets, and blockchains all offer new ways to decentralize and democratize the internet. (4) Spatial Computing: Advances in augmented reality/VR/extended reality. (5) Creator Economy: A new ecommerce platform for experiencing and buying products and services, and design tools to create and expand the metaverse. (6) Discovery: New types of stores (e.g., buying virtual clothing for avatars) and advertising networks. (7) Experience: Games, social, esports, theater, shopping, and betting.
What are some exciting long-term metaverse opportunities (or key challenges)?
Where is the metaverse? Will there be a single winner, or more likely a variety of unlinked metaverses that contract between one another to allow porting between metaverses? There are few rules and regulations that govern the metaverse. Just like when the web was new, there are only a handful of designers (metaverse architects) able to help companies build and see returns from the metaverse.
If a metaverse is truly decentralized, how can a community (i.e., decentralized autonomous organization (DAO)) ensure that its rules, policies, protocols, and legal terms are consistent with real-world laws, regulations, and rights (e.g., discrimination concerns)?
I think that a lot of the self-governance will evolve as the regulating bodies of the metaverse are challenged in ways they have yet to imagine. This isn’t very different from the content moderation rules that companies are grappling with right now. DAOs will be sued in the real world by aggrieved parties, which they will learn to respond and adapt to.
If a metaverse has virtual stores (e.g., virtual clothing for an avatar), how might consumer protection laws apply to sales or marketing of virtual goods?
Existing intellectual property laws should protect brand owners from infringement in the metaverse, but will likely need to evolve. As the virtual products are not real, product liability will not be the same as for real products. That said, for those virtual products that are attached to real world products (e.g., non-fungible tokens and associated concert tickets or exclusive memberships), the same existing rules and regulations will apply to those real-world products.
In what ways might experimentation and experience in metaverses lead to corresponding changes in the real world?
I think we will see a wider reach of the metaverse attracting mixed real-world and metaverse collaboration—e.g., a concert that is both local in the real world and broadcast within the metaverse. Over time, people will expect experiences in the real world to mimic those in the metaverse.
In terms of the patentability of an invention, how big is the concern that prior art will be found in the Metaverse (and how can that type of diligence be conducted efficiently and effectively)?
I don’t see this having a major impact, as the metaverse is just another “publication” that can act as prior art just like the 2D internet does today.