Posted by Matt Perez on 02/24/2010 in virtual worlds , trademarks , second life , patents , copyrights
I guess I should not be surprised, but I find it kind of creepy that there is such a thing as a virtual USPTO and even a Second Life Bar Association. I guess that wherever the money goes, the law (and lawyers) follow.
In an article by Sally Abel, an attorney at Fenwick & West and Adrienna Wong, a student at Yale Law School, they talk about Intellectual Property in the context of virtual spaces, particularly Second Life.
The first surprise, for me, was their mention of the Second Life Patent and Trademark Office (SLPTO), an independent user-created service that offers protection of intellectual property." These are not the real USPTO people, rather it is a service that time-stamps "evidence of creation." The slpto.com site is rather sparse (i.e., it looks abandoned) but I found this interview with its creator, developer ‘FlipperPA Peregrine‘ (i.e., Tim Allen) which gives a pretty good background of it.
The other organization the authors describe is the Second Life Bar Association, "is an informal professional organization that helps members navigate the Second Life® legal landscape." They even have annual conferences!
Virtual Infringement, Real Courts
The article talks about several real world legal cases related to trademarks and other IP issues in Second Life. They mention other cases that though not directly related to Second Life may have an impact on how IP is treated in virtual space. One particular case involved ESS Entertainment 2000, Inc and Rock Star Video, Inc.
Rock Star Video is the producer of the infamous Grand Theft Auto video game. ESS Entertainment runs a strip club in Los Angeles called Play Pen Gentlemen’s Club and they claimed that a virtual strip club in Grand Theft called Pig Pen was too close for comfort and that it infringed its "trademark and trade dress." Suffice to say that they lost. You can read more about it here, including a funny quip by the judge.
Herman Miller took a more enlightened approach. When they found out that models of their Aeron chairs were being sold in Second Life without their permission, they created one of their own and gave them for free to people who had bought the knock offs. In one fell swoop, they managed to protect their rights and end up as the good guy in this little affair. Their action certainly fit and enhanced their brand ("classy").
As I've been saying in several posts, I think it is obvious by now that more and more the future will be dominated by companies that can keep up a consistent stream of innovation. Given the system today, patents are a necessary evil for some industries, but woe to those who focus solely on protecting their one (and only) brilliant idea. Better to spend money and effort in creating and sustaining a culture (and processes and metrics) that makes innovation possible, even disruptive innovations
If your business requires you to do the patent thing, by all means go ahead and do that. Then hand it over to the lawyers and get quickly back to work on the next innovation that 1) will delight your customers and 2) catch your competition unawares.