Real Trademarks in Virtual Worlds

An article on Law of the Level takes a look at whether using real brands on virtual goods in online worlds—by someone other than the trademark owner—could be interpreted as trademark infringement.

A publication of the law firm Sheppard Mullin, the blog was written by Thayer Preece, a lawyer in the firm’s Video Game Industry Group. She begins to answer the question by noting that several real world brands have taken exception to counterfeit virtual goods sold online, especially when the money from these sales line someone else’s pocket.

One way to deal with infringements is to sue. Taser International, Inc. filed a lawsuit against Second Life creator Linden Labs (along with others) earlier this year, which alleged that fake Taser-branded products were being sold in Second Life and infringing on the company’s sales. Taser sought $75,000 in damages but eventually dropped the suit.

Another way to fight the knock-offs is to join the virtual world and pump out your own branded goods. Law of the Level writes that this is the tact Herman Miller took. In response to a number of fake Herman Miller goods offered on Second Life, the designer launched its own official presence in the world and even replaced “fake” Herman Miller products with “real” ones.

What would happen if a virtual world trademark infringement lawsuit made it to court? Breece writes:

At present, there is no legal precedent on this subject. But as the popularity of virtual worlds continues to grow, it seems likely that it will only be a matter of time before the courts make a decision on the issue. In the meantime, it will be up to each brand holder individually to decide how to respond to the emergence of this growing marketplace and its potential opportunities and pitfalls.

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