22 March 2022

Patentability of inventions in the metaverse

Facebook’s rebranding to ‘Meta’ in 2021 brought renewed attention to the metaverse, a shared virtual environment that, at least according to Meta, is the next evolution of social connection. The metaverse offers the potential to radically change many aspects of life, including learning, working and socialising. The metaverse – and the investment flowing into it – provides opportunities for companies looking to innovate and to protect their innovations.

While the introduction of Meta is relatively recent, the development – and patenting – of metaverse technologies has been ongoing for decades. While some companies already have substantial patent portfolios built up in this space, the metaverse is a huge space, so much room remains for innovation and patenting.

Hardware technologies

In principle, seeking patent protection for hardware technologies for the metaverse tends to be quite straightforward – and there are many existing patents for virtual reality and augmented reality headsets. When seeking protection for hardware technologies, the major barrier is likely to be the need for novelty and inventiveness. While this is far from simple in what has become a crowded space, there are of course myriad areas in which metaverse hardware can be improved.

Software technologies

On the other hand, obtaining software patents for metaverse technologies is likely to be comparatively more difficult from a subject matter point of view, but there is still substantial scope to protect such inventions. Much of the metaverse will be built on simulation, either of the real world or virtual locations and situations. As demonstrated in European Patent Office (EPO) decision G1/19, patenting inventions for simulation can be difficult via the EPO (and, indeed, in the UK). However, such restrictive provisions are not universally applicable. Obtaining protection for these types of inventions in, for example, the US can sometimes be more straightforward.

Future of patents in the metaverse

In any event, getting a patent granted for many of the technologies required to implement the metaverse, and especially the simulations within it, is likely to be possible. As an example, much of the recording of information and transactions associated with the metaverse will occur using blockchains or similar technologies – and as explained in our recent article, obtaining protection for these technologies is currently possible in many jurisdictions.

In short, protecting software inventions associated with the metaverse might not always be easy, but there is certainly room for innovation. While care should be taken to position the software inventions in a patent-friendly manner, there is plenty of scope for obtaining protection for all types of metaverse inventions.