Companies are waking up to the dawn of a new commercial reality: the virtual consumer marketplace. Facebook’s rebrand to “Meta,” a clear nod to the shape-shifting “metaverse” (see here), signaled to the public that a vast, novel marketplace exists for a company’s goods and services. Savvy trademark owners are taking notice too.
Trademarks (and trademark disputes) in the virtual world are nothing new (see here), but trademark owners seeking trademark protection with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office for virtual goods and services is. In recent months, McDonald’s, Victoria’s Secret, Walmart and Gucci, just to name a few, filed trademark applications for virtual goods and services, signaling their intent to offer their products in the digital world.
Beyond trademark filings, forward-thinking trademark owners are already offering their brands in the metaverse or are collaborating with established digital players to do so in online gaming, NFTs (non-fungible tokens), and other virtual entertainment. For example, Ralph Lauren partnered with Roblox to launch a holiday-themed virtual fashion line; Coca Cola launched an NFT collection; Nike acquired a digital fashion start-up company; Samsung opened a virtual store in Decentraland; and Gucci created a digital immersive experience called “Gucci Garden.”
Envisioning and understanding the digital consumer requires a paradigm shift. Consider this: an exhausted worker collapses in her chair after a long day, forgetting to pick up groceries on the way home. She snaps on her VR headset and dons the virtual Nike shoes and The North Face® jacket she digitally purchased earlier. She zips down her virtual street to the virtual Trader Joe’s. She quickly adds groceries to her virtual cart, digitally checks out, and heads home, stopping at the virtual Walgreens to pick up her son’s prescription. She removes her VR headset and, within minutes, her doorbell rings: her groceries and prescription have arrived.
While this may stretch the imagination today, this digital consumption could very well be our tomorrow. Digital innovation requires trademark owners to rethink the scale and scope of their trademarks, trademark rights and trademark protection. For brand owners, selling products and services in the digital world is a tremendous business opportunity, but it requires innovation and intention.
If you are a consumer products company and have yet to consider how to protect and proliferate your brands in the new digital world, you would be well served by doing so now. The future is at your doorstep. If you have questions on how to do so, please contact Mary Bonnema or any member of Warner’s Trademarks and Brand Management Practice Group.