Preparing for the Metaverse: The next big thing

January 13, 2022 | Wayne Logan, John-David D’Souza, Alissa Ricioppo, Evelyne Vacy-Lyle, Arsham Gill

The rapid emergence of the Metaverse hosts a set of new wonders, curiosities, and potentially even worries. For many, it begins with asking the question – what is the Metaverse? Why are big corporations investing billions of dollars to create digital landscapes for the next big thing in tech? This moment is reminiscent of the rise of the blockchain, which has become a widely implemented technology in 2021, but was originally brushed aside by many when it rose to the scene in 2015. Like blockchain technology, the Metaverse is something which will inevitably shape the way individuals have social interactions, consume media content, and ultimately do business.

Are you curious how entering the Metaverse can benefit your business? Understanding the unique business and legal issues raised by the Metaverse may help you determine if entering this new world is the right choice for your business.

What is the Metaverse?

Understanding the impacts of the Metaverse on your business begins with understanding the Metaverse itself. Metaverse comes from the word “meta” meaning beyond, and “verse” referring to the universe. It is the concept of a future iteration of the internet, made up of persistent, shared networks of spaces linked into a perceived virtual universe. Another way to describe the Metaverse is as the increasing permeability of the borders between different digital environments and the physical world.

The Metaverse will allow us to reach beyond what physical limitations prevent us from accomplishing. We know the Metaverse will be a space where you can interact with virtual objects in real life with real-time information using avatars. However, it is still a mystery whether we are going to experience the Metaverse through the use of headsets which place you within a virtual reality, by wearing smart goggles that augment reality in your personal environment, or through a different method altogether.

Business Considerations

Despite some representations of the Metaverse simply as a glorified videogame experience, in reality it will have very powerful implications for the ways individuals and corporations do business. The Metaverse will allow individuals to consume media content, purchase items, generate tokens, or participate in recreational activities which would be otherwise impossible due to geographic location, public health restrictions, or safety concerns.

The abrupt rise of the corporate world’s reliance on remote collaboration as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, has proven that the future of working in the Metaverse is not only possible, but poised to result in more efficient, streamlined, and convenient opportunities for businesses. In retail, the COVID-19 pandemic has already altered the norm of shopping experiences, and the Metaverse will accelerate the trend of purchasing products remotely while also enabling a more interactive in-store experience. Online meetings became a necessity for the corporate world after offices everywhere shut down in 2020, but imagine a meeting with your business affiliates across the country where the limitations of video conferences no longer inhibit the sharing of ideas.

Brands around the world have taken notice of the Metaverse because they believe it will usher in the next age of consumerism. Well-recognized brands, such as Gucci and Nike, have already began collaborating with platforms similar to the Metaverse in order to reach a broader audience. Imagine, as a consumer, entering a virtual mall with a custom avatar, interacting with products and services sold by real companies, and making purchases which may be enjoyed in the physical world — all from the comfort of your own home.

Facebook and Instagram originated as platforms premised on the idea of enhancing social elements of our lives through the online sharing of pictures, stories, and publications. Now, these platforms have progressed to spaces that facilitate legitimate business operations. For many industries, reluctance by business owners in adopting the usage of these platforms to market their services has closed off a section of the consumer population that would otherwise bring profit. Adaptability and acceptance to the opportunities in the Metaverse will function in the same way for businesses.

Legal Considerations

The laws of the Metaverse will not only be unique, but we can also expect that the constant evolution of the digital landscape will result in regularly changing laws for its users. Whether you are utilizing the Metaverse as a small business operating a retail space or a corporation facilitating business which connects to services in the physical world, the laws of the Metaverse and the ways they interact with our established legal systems will shape how you can participate within the network. Below, we consider some of the key legal issues that will come to light with the emergence of the Metaverse.

Intellectual Property Law

Intellectual property rights and ownership will be a key legal consideration when entering the Metaverse, and this raises a number of questions for any brands or businesses looking to delve into this new frontier. Will current trademark and patent registrations apply to virtual worlds? Can you patent an invention created within the Metaverse? What is the legal jurisdiction for the Metaverse? While the answers to questions like these are still being explored, they should be at the forefront of any Metaverse business strategist’s mind.

It will be important for trademarked brands to consider how they would like to go about protecting their intellectual property when it comes to user-generated content. In the social simulation video game series Animal Crossing, published by Nintendo, players are able to mimic designs of clothing brands on the clothing they use for their custom avatars. In the Metaverse, people will likely attempt the same thing. This practice raises issues of trademark infringement. How can you prevent someone from using your brand in user-generated content? Is it in your best interests to do so? What steps will the Metaverse platform take in censoring user-generated content? These questions and others relating to intellectual property rights will inevitably affect business operations in the Metaverse.  Brand owners may want to assess expanding the goods and services connected with their trademarks to include Metaverse licensing.

Privacy & Data Protection Law

Use of the internet has resulted in new privacy and data protection issues across the world. These issues will likely become more complex with the emergence of the Metaverse. As a result, compliance with relevant privacy and data protection laws are sure to be key legal considerations for all businesses entering this next frontier of digital commerce.

Participation in the Metaverse will inevitably lead to the ability to collect an unprecedented amount of data on users within the Metaverse. How? In addition to the standard information provided by users and collected automatically by websites, users can be continuously monitored in the Metaverse, down to their brain wave patterns. How will businesses collect, house, use and disclose this personal information? How can individuals and businesses protect personal information from hackers? Answering these questions will help businesses prepare privacy policies which suit their operations and comply with relevant legislation.

Conclusion

While the Metaverse will provide ample opportunity for businesses and individuals alike, it may also present a complicated legal endeavour for entry. Obtaining effective legal advice will assist individuals and business in navigating the nuances of the fastest growing network of interconnectedness imaginable.

Miller Thomson employs lawyers who specialize in privacy, intellectual property, corporate and tax law and have experience assisting businesses at all stages of development.

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