I recently visited CES® 2023, the proving ground for breakthrough technologies and global innovators, to understand new developments in the metaverse. I saw new display technologies that deliver content in both virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). For AR, the new display tech enabled wider viewing angles than before. Meta Platforms, formerly Facebook, have moved their focus to innovation in this sector. Japan and other countries have also laid out plans to integrate metaverse technology at the national level. Although a fully immersive and interconnected metaverse is not yet possible, platforms like The Sandbox, Spatial, and decentraland have emerged to provide virtual social experiences.
The metaverse is using blockchain technology to move forward. The Central Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center was packed with familiar technologies. CES provided a glimpse into a wonderful decentralized future, from Ixana’s haptic VR technology to Samsung’s smart TVs with blockchain integrations like wallets and marketplaces for non-fungible tokens ( FFT).
The metaverse is a term used to describe a virtual world, typically accessed through the internet, that is populated by a large number of users and where users can interact with each other and with virtual objects in real-time. The concept of the metaverse has been around for decades, but its development has accelerated in recent years due to advances in technology such as virtual reality, augmented reality, and blockchain.
Currently, the metaverse is still largely in the early stages of development. There are a number of companies and organizations that are working on building the infrastructure and creating the content necessary to support a metaverse, but it is not yet fully realized.
Some existing examples of metaverse platforms include Second Life, Sansar, and VRChat. These platforms offer users a variety of experiences such as socializing, gaming, and artistic expression.
Additionally, some companies are working on creating metaverse platforms to support various industries such as education, entertainment, and business. For example, Facebook has announced plans to create a metaverse platform called Horizon, and Google has announced a similar platform called Google VR.
However, there are still many challenges to be overcome before the metaverse becomes a fully realized and widely adopted technology. These include technical issues such as latency and data security, as well as legal and regulatory issues. Additionally, the definition of the metaverse itself is still a topic of debate, with different companies and organizations having different visions of what the metaverse should be.
Overall, the metaverse is still an emerging technology and its development is ongoing, it’s a field to watch as it has the potential to change the way we interact and communicate with each other in a significant way.
near term uses of the metaverse
Although the term metaverse was first used in Neal Stephenson’s 1992 science fiction novel, “Snow Crash”, the rapid development of technologies to enhance the metaverse experience have increased in recent years. The near-term uses of the metaverse are likely to include:
- Virtual events and conferences: As the COVID-19 pandemic has made in-person events and gatherings difficult, many companies and organizations have turned to virtual events as a way to continue to connect with their audiences. The metaverse could provide an even more immersive and interactive experience for virtual events, allowing attendees to interact with each other and with virtual objects in real-time.
- Gaming and entertainment: The metaverse could provide a platform for new and immersive forms of gaming and entertainment. Players could interact with each other and with virtual environments in real-time, creating new opportunities for social and cooperative play.
- Remote work and collaboration: The metaverse could provide a platform for remote workers and teams to collaborate in a shared virtual space, allowing them to work together in real-time regardless of their physical location.
- Virtual reality shopping and e-commerce: The metaverse could provide a platform for virtual reality shopping experiences, allowing customers to browse and purchase products in a fully immersive and interactive environment.
- Training and education: The metaverse could provide a platform for virtual reality training and education, allowing students and employees to learn and practice new skills in a safe and controlled environment.
It’s important to note that the metaverse is still in the early stages of development, and it’s hard to predict exactly how it will evolve and be used in the future. However, these are some of the near-term uses that are expected to be popular as the technology becomes more advanced and widely adopted.
Long Term Uses of the Metaverse
The metaverse, a term used to describe a virtual shared space, has the potential for a wide range of futuristic uses. Some predictions for its use include:
- Virtual reality commerce: The metaverse could serve as a platform for virtual stores and markets, where users can shop and purchase virtual goods and services.
- Remote work and collaboration: The metaverse could provide a virtual space for remote teams to work and collaborate together in real-time, regardless of their physical location.
- Virtual tourism: The metaverse could be used to create virtual representations of real-world locations, allowing users to experience and explore places they may not be able to visit in person.
- Virtual entertainment: The metaverse could be used to create immersive, interactive entertainment experiences, such as virtual concerts, movies, and gaming.
- Virtual education: The metaverse could be used to create virtual classrooms and educational experiences, allowing students to learn and interact with each other in a virtual environment.
These are just a few examples, and the potential uses of the metaverse are likely to evolve and expand as technology continues to advance.
Enablers of the Metaverse
Technologies Of The Metaverse Ecosystem include:
Blockchain is the heart and soul of the Metaverse. Blockchain is one of the fastest-growing technologies over the last few years. It has already been successful in its initial implementation in various forms. The Metaverse will be built around blockchain-based offerings, including Cryptocurrencies and NFTs, as well as digital ownership, decentralization and digital ownership. Comparing China to the United States, China is innovating twice as fast when it comes down to securing IP for Blockchain technology. Nine of the 10 most influential global innovators are located in China. Over 1,000 Chinese-based companies have filed over 10,000 Metaverse-related trademarks in the past few years. This shows a strong commitment to Metaverse in China. The United States’ top innovators include Visa, Intel, Mastercard and Intel. Since 2015, patent filings have increased as companies realized the potential of the technology and the success of Bitcoin. Startups and small actors will be key players in the Metaverse, as filed patents cover basic aspects of Blockchain.
Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning play a major role in the Metaverse. Different providers will offer different metaverses. We expect interoperability will eventually allow users to experience an always-on Metaverse. However, the sheer volume of content, personalized content and other digital experiences require a lot of effort. AI will play an important role in making this more efficient, accurate and precise. For the past few years, companies have been innovating AI/ML. The Metaverse will open up new possibilities for innovation. The other key players in AI are Meta, Amazon and Intel. However, they are still lagging behind in the field, but are focusing more on AI/ML in recent years.
A Metaverse that runs continuously would need a lot of storage, processing and performance. Cloud computing is the only cost-efficient option Metaverse creators have to keep everything running smoothly. Cloud computing innovations are crucial for the Metaverse’s existence, given the immense processing power required. IBM was proactive in securing patents to cloud computing technologies. This is followed closely by Microsoft which is actively working towards Metaverse-based applications. Huawei has strong IP and a commercial offering in cloud computing. Baidu, Alphabet and Intel are also leaders in cloud computing. Amazon, VMware, VMware, Dell, Intel, Dell and Amazon would all play an important part in providing an always-on cloud for the Metaverse application enablers.
Wearables can be used to create an interface between the virtual and physical worlds. Wearables come in many forms, including Augmented Reality (AR), or Virtual Reality (VR), headsets, such as Oculus Quest. HaptX Gloves DK2 is a glove that recreates sensations in virtual reality. A complete bodysuit that simulates an experience and provides haptic feedback. 2014 saw a real boom in patent filings in these technologies. Companies began to concentrate on offering more engaging and realistic experiences to their customers via mobile and video games. The top three players in this domain are Microsoft, Samsung and LG. In the four years between 2017 and 2020, Magic Leap Meta, Apple, and LG filed more than 40% of their patent applications relating to Interface technologies. Alphabet, Sony, Samsung and Sony have all been consistent in securing IP related to Interface technologies. Goertek, which is ranked among the top 11-20 innovators, has an extensive arsenal of IP in Interface technology. Goertek, a China-based public company, offers a growing number of VR products. It is also a supplier for the top patent filers in this field – Apple, Samsung and Sony.
AR and VR can sometimes be used in conjunction, but each has its own IP laws. AR uses the real world as a backdrop, but adds digital details to it. This allows for new layers of perception and augments the reality. Digital details can be any information that is perceived by five senses, including touch, sound and taste. Visual information is the most popular and well-developed AR. Virtual reality, unlike AR, allows you to create realistic sounds, images and other sensations. VR is a brand new technology that was created from scratch. Virtual reality (VR) is the main technology of the metaverse which consists of virtual worlds.
Copyrights and trademarks in the virtual world
People can appear in the virtual world through avatars. Copyright protects fictional characters’ images and their unique character traits. Users who copy enough visuals, traits, or both, to be considered copyrighted expressions and not just an idea, could be infringing. The use of licensed avatars is not permitted if it is noncommercial. However, fair use would be possible if the owner has given permission to sell them. It could also be considered trademark infringement.
Rights holders may choose to not pursue individual avatar sellers or users, but to sue AR or VR operators for contributory infringement. The US Digital Millennium Copyright Act might make an operator immune, but only if someone sends a notice-and takedown request, which isn’t promptly followed up on. While there is established case law that sets out the limits for intermediary liability under DMCA, the law is still evolving.
Academics predict that many of these infringement claims will be against user generated works that include logos or works in VR. This is especially true if the works are copyrighted and not the wholesale duplication that occurs online. AR will likely face novel copyright issues due to derivative works. AR allows users to combine work from different sources to create new works. This is what people do when they place virtual Pokemon “in” a sculpture. While these derivative works are temporary and not permanent, some case law considers ephemeral modifications to copyrighted works as infringing.
The law of trademarks in relation to virtual goods and services remains unclear. There are many questions: Does a trademark for “apparel” include a virtual tshirt that an avatar can buy in the metaverse? What about a virtual purse, you ask? The latter question was brought to the courtroom by Hermes’ lawsuit against Mason Rothschild. Mason Rothschild is an artist who created virtual art versions Hermes’ Birkin bag and sold them online under the name “MetaBirkin.” Hermes filed the suit in January 2021. Hermes sued Rothschild for trademark infringement and misappropriation, cybersquatting and false designation of source and description. Rothschild attempted to dismiss the case based on the argument that the “MetaBirkins”, an artistic expression, and the use of Birkin’s name and likeness didn’t indicate a source (as trademarks require), but was instead used as an artistic title. The motion to dismiss was denied. This means that the case will continue and it will be interesting to see how the law in this area develops. Notably, the court recognized that there could be a distinction between a static image, such as the “MetaBirkin”, artwork, and a virtual purse an avatar might use in the metaverse.
The majority of legal issues in AR will likely concern trademarks and copyrights. Third parties could infringe on AR and VR trademarks. AR is unique because virtual trademarks can appear anywhere in real space. This gives advertisers an opportunity to plaster their logos on everything, from billboards to buildings to trees to the Washington monument to people’s clothing to the Washington Monument. This would raise a lot of legal questions. There may be false connections between the advertiser, the object owner or the advertiser’s trademark. This could lead to confusion about whether the physical entity, the property owner, or the government (in the case the Washington Monument) sponsors the virtual advertisement.
It is not clear whether trademarks that protect goods in the real world can be extended to cover virtual representations. This uncertainty is illustrated in the Marvel case v. NCSoft. Marvel sued NCSoft, an online game company, over providing tools for players to create superhero costumes for their avatars. This allegedly violated the copyrights and trademarks of Marvel’s heroes. The court dismissed Marvel’s trademark claims. It stated that the players didn’t use the brands in commerce, and that the use by players of Marvel Superhero names was not infringing. The AR market is changing with technology and times. Many brands and companies, including Nike, Gucci and Prada, are now seeking registrations of their trademarks in classes that specifically relate to virtual goods.
AR will undoubtedly add new dimensions to copyright law concepts such as fair use and derivative works. AR artists will have copyrighted work everywhere when they use the physical world to create their art, sculptures, architecture, and so forth. Is it possible to transform a copyrighted object into another similar object? Is it fair use? Does that constitute copyright infringement? AR could also improve other senses, such as hearing and sight. Is it possible to copyright infringe by amplifying music from distant concerts that is normally difficult to hear? The IP questions are numerous.
predictions for the future of the virtual world
1. A Decade of False Starts for Consumer AR to Come to an End
Consumer AR devices launched since 2013 without presenting compelling use cases. Many headset makers have had to abandon their products due to this failure. This transition is coming to an end in 2023. Because of increased attention to product-market fit and technological sophistication, success for consumer-focused smart glass is now possible. In many areas, headsets must compete with established device categories such as VR headsets. Early signs have shown that headset manufacturers are finding ways to overcome this difficult competitive position in 2022.
2. Enterprise Use of XR Devices to Grow
The October 2022 launch of the US$1500 Quest Pro VR headset by Meta at Meta was met with much excitement, but also many questions. This product is a key example of a growing trend within VR, namely video passthrough mixed real (MR) emphasis. The headset’s front camera captures images that are combined with virtual objects. Pancake lenses, which make use of polarizers to reduce the optical path through headsets, keep the headset compact and prevent video passing through feeling like you are looking at stalks.
Meta hopes this headset will transform a laptop to a multi-monitor setup you can take with you anywhere. Its capabilities are amazing. The device is surrounded by conversations, which hides the fact that XR devices are being used for similar purposes.
The ThinkReality devices from Lenovo have a long history. Its upcoming VRX headset shares a similar feature set as the Quest Pro. The A3 AR headset, however, takes a different approach to solving the same problems. The compact headset uses birdbath combination optics to overlay images onto real world. This reduces image noise and latency, but allows for a smaller field view. Although it does not have as many advanced features and must be connected to a PC or phone, it is less than half the weight. The device will be available worldwide next year, but it is expected to have a similar design for consumers.
3. Collaboration Between Major Metaverse Movers Will Increase
The Quest Pro’s announcement featured the collaboration between Meta (Microsoft) and Microsoft (Microsoft), which brought the latter’s productivity tools onto the device. This is yet another data point this year, including the loss of key personnel such as Alex Kipman, HoloLens’ lead engineer. It suggests that Microsoft is reviewing its HoloLens AR device programme. It also speaks to the “unite-or-die” problem of creating interoperable metaverses and is an early datapoint indicating a growing trend towards collaboration among major stakeholders. The formation of the Metaverse Standards Forum in 2022 was a milestone. It aims to provide advice to international standards agencies regarding the development of standards that will support an open metaverse. Its members are a list of major internet, telecoms and professional services firms. The group’s first decisions in shaping this space will be implemented in 2023.