The overlap of virtual reality and intellectual property is a relatively recent phenomenon. The advent of virtual worlds, such as Second Life, has created increased opportunities for legitimate marketing and branding, as well as, increased opportunities for infringement. Second Life even has its own bar association for those interested in virtual legal practice.
If you noticed the dates from the links above, you’ll see that I’m not the first blogger to address some of these topics. Indeed, questions about intellectual property in virtual worlds have been percolating for years. However, recently a real-world lawsuit was initiated over virtual-world infringement. Taser International, Inc. has sued Second Life’s creator, Linden Research Inc, alleging that Linden is selling virtual weaponry that infringes its rights. Among the interesting issues likely to arise in this suit will be vicarious and contributory trademark infringement and whether or not the use of a trademark in a virtual world constitutes a “use in commerce” which is necessary for trademark infringement. It will be interesting to see how traditional trademark principles are actually applied in the virtual environment.