Second life, second chance, second thoughts on IP Strategy in the virtual world

Online gaming is big business. I’m talking about playing computer games online, not gambling online.
It’s so big that the popular Second Life online game (with approximately 7.5 million players, or ‘residents’) has announced the first real person to become a millionaire (in real life) from their online playing. (Susan Vega recently became the first real life performer to perform as an avatar online – in-game on Second life.)
Hold on – how does this work?
The virtual world of commerce created in such artificial worlds becomes so important to the players that they will pay real life money to get a virtual economic advantage while they are ‘in-game’.
Wow. (And I’m not necessarily saying that I think that’s a good thing.)
From an IP Strategy perspective, there are some really interesting issues arising.
Many big computer-related companies are already putting up ads in appropriate places ‘in-game’. (For example, players of some more traditional online war games may turn a corner and see a Microsoft billboard in a virtual street.) Clearly the idea here is some pretty well targeted advertising.
But what about IP infringement?
If someone gains a virtual economic advantage by infringing (for example) a trade mark in-game (which may or may not translate into a real life economic advantage) – is that trade mark infringement in real life? Do we need to set up a virtual in-game court? (and patent and trade mark offices, etc…)
If there’s no real life damage (and how do we quantify that, anyway), then perhaps there’s no reason to sue. But with 7.5 million users / players / residents already in Second Life alone, this needs to be taken seriously.
If people ‘in-game’ are in fact being deceived into spending virtual money due to a virtual trade mark infringement – is that actionable in real life? Should it be?
Does your head hurt yet?
Can we put on evidence of actual confusion in real life, based on the actions of an avatar?
How do we deal with all of this? And what strategies can be adopted to meet the challenges and turn them into opportunities… (Some answers and further thoughts in a future article.)
In the mean time – what do you think?

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