In the metaverse, people can interact, work, enjoy leisure activities and go shopping with their friends, family and even strangers through technologies such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). The rise of the metaverse is expected to change people’s lifestyles to a certain extent.
The term “design”, according to article 121(1) of the Taiwan Patent Act, means a creation – namely, the shape, pattern, colour or any combination thereof – of an article as a whole or in part.
This article explores how design patents relating to the metaverse can be protected in Taiwan.
Designs relating to a tangible device used to access the metaverse (eg, VR glasses) are no different to designs of other tangible products with three-dimensional shapes. Therefore, they are patentable subject matter for a design patent, and the required filing documents are the same as those for other designs. In addition, according to the Taiwan Intellectual Property Office (TIPO),(1) designs of products with three-dimensional shapes are not classified as metaverse design patents. Instead, the TIPO classifies metaverse design patents into three categories according to their properties:
- virtual space (eg, the non-physical space seen through VR glasses) – the preparation of drawings for this category can be presented in a manner similar to the presentation of design patent drawings for “interior designs” in the Patent Examination Guidelines;
- virtual articles (eg, game treasures and non-fungible tokens) – the preparation of drawings for this category can be presented in a manner similar to the presentation of design patent drawings for “common articles” in the Patent Examination Guidelines; and
- human-machine interface (eg, the operating interface) – the preparation of drawings for this category can be presented in a manner similar to the presentation of design patent drawings for “graphic user interface (GUI)” in the Patent Examination Guidelines.
These three categories of metaverse design patents should be identified as “computer program products” in the specification so as to be distinguishable from physical product design patents. This is because that the TIPO recognises that non-physical product designs are digital designs generated by software, and that “computer program products” are the source of such digital designs. In 2020, the TIPO defined the products to which such digital designs are applied as “computer program products” by amending its Patent Examination Guidelines.
Currently, the number of applications and/or approvals of metaverse design patents both in Taiwan and abroad is still small, indicating that the metaverse is still at an early stage. The aforementioned TIPO article suggests that Taiwan holds an open attitude towards metaverse design patent applications and has provided relevant application guidelines.
Nevertheless, it is clear that the metaverse will continue to develop. Meanwhile, major international companies (eg, Meta, Microsoft and NVIDIA) have recently formed the Metaverse Standards Forum, aiming to standardise the metaverse industry. It is believed that countries will gradually open up or further relax the conditions for metaverse design patent applications in response to this trend in the foreseeable future.
For further information on this topic please contact Michael Sun at Lee and Li Attorneys at Law by telephone (+886 2 2763 8000) or email ([email protected]). The Lee and Li website can be accessed at www.leeandli.com.