The growth of virtual reality technology has gained significant momentum since last year, when Facebook announced its parent entity’s new name, Meta to focus specifically on the metaverse. Based on recent developments, the next stage of virtual reality innovations will cover social selling of virtual items as introduced by Meta, along with the partnership announced by Microsoft and Nikon to produce VR content. Patent attorneys with expertise in virtual reality patents and augmented reality patents draft the patent applications in a manner such that the Virtual Reality or Augmented Reality Patents cover gaming and metaverse innovations as a combination of hardware plus software patent claims.
A thorough analysis of virtual reality patent landscape provides interesting insights. For example, Facebook has been granted a patent for prevention of user interface occlusion in a virtual reality environment. Essentially, this patent relates to controls and interfaces for user interactions and experiences in a virtual reality environment. Another example of virtual reality patent covers enabling drawing in a computer-generated reality environment, which has been granted to Apple.
A patent search covering virtual reality innovations is conducting across various patent database resources to determine patent eligibility or patentability of new virtual reality inventions. While conducting such patent searches, different patent classifications can be used to limit the number of search results that can result in specific patent literature disclosing virtual reality inventions. For example, the international patent classification of G06F3/011 discloses arrangements for interaction with the human body, e.g. for user immersion in virtual reality. The virtual reality patent landscape reveals that a majority of innovations relate to virtual reality games and virtual reality headsets. Another example of virtual reality invention is virtual reality glasses, including the famous one i.e. virtual reality oculus.
As we are close to the first quarter of 2022, we see virtual reality (VR) becoming one of the most discussed topics in the technology domain. The VI is the tech that allows users to engross themselves in various experiences such as movies, gaming, diagnostic, analytics. As per AARP (a US-based media outlet), sales of VR devices across the globe are expected to reach more than $100 billion by 2022. Many sectors such as healthcare, manufacturing and more also have started adopting VR tech in new and innovative ways.
VR tech involves various complex components and procedures. Most of the time, there is fierce competition to develop and launch new VR products. Whether it involves processes regarding the calculation of where & when rendering of the video should occur or projection devices regarding immersive experience – VR is witnessing innovation at a rapid pace in both software & hardware domain. To ensure that R&D associated with VR is not copied patent remains an important key.
A three-dimensional (3D) computer-generated environment with immersive nature that people can explore and co-relate to. When a person starts performing several activities or operating objects, they become preoccupied within such environment or part of such virtual environment. With VR, they can recreate sensory episodes such as virtual touch, sight, sound, smell, and taste. As 3-D and 4-D continue gaining popularity, different industries like healthcare, defense, consumer, industrial, entertainment and more have started a trend towards its integration with this tech. This process, in turn, has led to the rise of several virtual reality display systems. The first head-mounted display system was created by Ivan Sutherland in 1965.
VR tech also possesses the potential to make social impacts. It also comes with a 360-degree interactive environment that facilitates avatars similar to humans. It has impacted the way consumers interact or react, buy things, experience movies or take part in social activities. With the growth of VR, many tech companies like Intel, Nokia & University of Oulu (Finland) announced to launch of a joint research center to develop software for VR and 3D experiences to use on mobile devices. With their research activities, IBM has developed a mobile app that incorporates VR for Tesco (a British grocery retailer). It allows Tesco employees to conduct product placements where they capture an image of store shelving space & superimpose those with product images to be placed on those places next.
VR has been a great help in boosting wisdom presence of average level. It is best for those who are looking forward to gaining various perspectives via experiencing certain situations. With VR, from a young age onwards people are understanding and experiencing situations that take time to grasp with assistance from other traditional methods such as videos or books. Many tech firms are venturing into this sector by launching their 3D products. In 2015, Microsoft decided to introduce its VR computing platform called Windows Holographic. It was launched with Windows 10. The device for Windows Holographic is Microsoft HoloLens that’s a smart glass unit – it uses advanced sensors, spatial sound for VR applications, and a natural user interface that assists users to interact via hand gestures, gazes and voice commands.
VR tech is a fast-evolving and financially lucrative market where it is important for companies to safeguard their interests using intellectual property (IP) methods such as patents so that companies remain strong market players. They should access patent landscapes from time to time as long as they wish to remain in the VR business.
VR innovations depend on both hardware and software industries to launch their products. Sometimes companies have to file two different patent applications for different software and hardware features. At times even one patent application filed by the company may suffice. For example, while using VR gaming equipment, a gamer utilizes gaming applications for esports or games embedded with social media components. At times, they might also use non-gaming applications in conjunction with VR inventions. Therefore, patent ingenuity plays a key role in patenting both software and hardware features of VR devices.
The computing of computer-related inventions is more difficult nowadays than it was two decades back. Patent regulations from the United States (US) emphasize on the exclusion of “abstract idea” under a recently introduced patent-eligibility framework that the US Supreme Court had set forth in 2014 in the ‘Alice v. CLS Bank’ decision. Famously called the Alice framework, here a reviewing court or patent examiner needs to check if a patent claim under review gets directed to anyone judicially recognized exception to patentabilities such as an abstract idea, natural phenomena or laws of nature. Particularly, such a claim would be directed to ‘significantly more than other judicially recognized exceptions or abstract ideas.
Hardware inventions of AR are immune to several problems related to patent eligibility. Few challenges include a new variety of hardware interfaces and sensors and their new combinations or configurations. For inventions regarding implementation of software, VR tech is amenable to several exceptions to exclusion of ‘abstract idea’ from patentability.
To get their VR tech patented, companies need to satisfy the requirements of utility, novelty, non-obviousness, and patentability. A first and true inventor or person assigned by him can make an application for a patent if the invention is capable of industrial application and is a new process or product that involves an inventive step. The VR software that includes features, systems, maps, business services or methods, data and other miscellaneous objects including hardware features should be eligible for patent filing.
If a VR patented process or product is replicated in any unauthorized manner, it can be a cause of action for the patentee to exercise his right to exclude third parties in case replicated process or product has been found to be performing a substantially similar function in a substantially similar way. To protect such patented processes and products, patent lawyers often resort to mentioning that patent holders shall be holding preclusive rights to embodiments of their work in the virtual environment in a patent application. If VR platforms permit users to create their goods & services, they can be held liable for contributing to infringement under tort law.
Companies wish to get their virtual reality products patented so that they could maintain market exclusivity over their innovation to increase the product sales, raise venture capital or if they have plans to offer something in cross-licensing negotiation in case the company gets accused by some competitor for infringement. Although such considerations apply to all kinds of inventions, the nature of the VR landscape helps to amplify the effects. For example, venture capitalists are required to choose from hundreds of companies, where they conduct a screening process – here those companies who have not taken adequate steps to patent their innovations would automatically get filtered.
VR technologies possess the potential to push boundaries of physical reality that is beyond anticipation. It necessitates the adoption of the current patent regime to tackle new challenges that may emerge in future. The existing legal rules and doctrines are required to be modified to create a new balance between patent regulators and technology development and progress as tech changes continue to occur in global space.
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Advocate Rahul Dev is a Patent Attorney & International Business Lawyer practicing Technology, Intellectual Property & Corporate Laws. He is reachable at rd (at) patentbusinesslawyer (dot) com & @rdpatentlawyer on Twitter.
Quoted in and contributed to 50+ national & international publications (Bloomberg, FirstPost, SwissInfo, Outlook Money, Yahoo News, Times of India, Economic Times, Business Standard, Quartz, Global Legal Post, International Bar Association, LawAsia, BioSpectrum Asia, Digital News Asia, e27, Leaders Speak, Entrepreneur India, VCCircle, AutoTech).
Regularly invited to speak at international & national platforms (conferences, TV channels, seminars, corporate trainings, government workshops) on technology, patents, business strategy, legal developments, leadership & management.
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