Real life trade mark for virtual world persona

On 11 November 2008, the USPTO granted trade mark protection (registration no. 3531683) to Alyssa LaRoche for her Second Life avatar, Aimee Eber.  The trade mark was granted for use in ‘[c]omputer programming services, namely, content creation for virtual worlds and three dimensional platforms’.   

Second Life is a multi-player online role-playing game, or virtual world, where players create virtual personas known as avatars.  Players, through their avatars, can interact with each other and engage in a number of virtual activities which mirror real life, such as travelling, socialising and even buying and selling property.  Some players and avatars can even earn real-life income through the pursuit of virtual activities in Second Life.

The avatar, Aimee Weber, is used to represent virtual services provided by her creator, Alyssa LaRoche, in Second Life.  This is the first time a trade mark has been registered by the USPTO in relation to a virtual service. 

The registration of the name of an avatar as a trade mark raises a number of interesting legal questions.  Is the use in a virtual world sufficient to provide evidence of “use” under US legislation for the trade mark to remain registered?  Moreover, it is still unknown whether a trade mark holder would be able to sue for trade mark infringement in a US Federal court for conduct occurring solely in a virtual world. 

The ability to register the names of avatars as trade marks and protect other virtual intellectual property rights may become more important in the future, especially if technology evolves to permit avatars to move between virtual worlds.

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