G7 meeting on intellectual property: “Metaverse is not an area outside the law”

Patent and trade mark offices of the leading industrial nations agree a joint statement on intellectual property in digital contexts and on diversity and inclusion – DPMA President: IP rules apply unchanged in the virtual world

Press release of 15 December 2023

Munich. On the occasion of the meeting of the IP offices of the G7 countries, Eva Schewior, President of the German Patent and Trade Mark Office (DPMA), emphasised the importance of IP protection in digital contexts. “We want to be clear both to companies and to consumers: IP rules apply unchanged in the virtual world,” the DPMA President said and added: “As the leading industrial nations, we aim to increase the awareness that the metaverse is not an area outside the law where you can do whatever you want.”

The DPMA President also referred to the dangers of product and trade mark piracy in online trading – especially in relation to the current Christmas trade. “Be safe when making gifts and support innovative companies! Be vigilant about unusually low prices, as the products often turn out to be counterfeits of poor quality, some of which involve considerable safety risks. The damage they cause affects consumers too,” she said. The European Union Intellectual Property Office estimates that the annual value of counterfeited goods imported into the European Union is more than 100 billion euros, including drugs, foodstuffs and toys. Last year, German customs seized counterfeits amounting to approximately 435 million euros.

The handling of IP rights in the virtual world, especially in the metaverse, was one of the main topics at the meeting of the leaders of the G7 IP offices, representatives of the Federal Ministry of Justice and Daren Tang, Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organization. The meeting was held as an online conference under the direction of the Japan Patent Office. In a joint statement, the offices of the seven leading industrial nations pointed out: “In order to protect authors and innovators, we will work, both together and in our respective countries, on promoting the enforcement of IP rights and on tackling IP infringements that occur in new digital contexts such as the metaverse.” On the basis of the newly introduced section 26a of the Patent Act, the DPMA provides even more help, especially to small and medium-sized enterprises, to better evaluate and manage their intellectual property – also in the virtual world.

Many trade mark applications for virtual goods in the Register

The metaverse is a digital space where people can interact with each other as artificial figures known as avatars. As in the real world, they can buy things in the metaverse. And several well-known companies already offer their goods in the metaverse. There are even the first legal disputes about suspected product piracy.

As virtual versions of real goods are also source codes, most offices in the world, including the DPMA, according to the practice adopted with respect to the International (Nice) Classification of Goods and Services, currently consider them to be digital data, classifying them in Class 9 of the Nice Classification. NFTs, that is, non-fungible tokens on a blockchain, which are also used for cryptocurrencies, are often used to secure digital goods. Possible phrases in official lists of goods are, for example, “virtual sneakers authenticated by NFTs” or “computer software for blockchain technology”. The German trade mark register already contains more than 75 applications and registrations that include “NFT” in the list of goods and more than 1,200 applications and registrations containing the term “blockchain”.

At their meeting, the leaders of the G7 IP offices additionally addressed diversity and inclusion, emphasising the importance of the global system for IP protection. According to the joint statement, an efficient international IP ecosystem is necessary to create incentives for innovation and creativity that foster the social and economic development worldwide. It is also stated that, in order to accelerate innovation and creativity, it is necessary to integrate, in addition to existing users, other stakeholders – especially from underrepresented groups – who can benefit from the IP system.

See below for the text of the joint statement.

The German Patent and Trade Mark Office

Inventiveness and creativity need effective protection. The DPMA is the German centre of expertise for all intellectual property rights – patents, utility models, trade marks and designs. As the largest national patent office in Europe and the fifth largest national patent office in the world, our office stands for the future of Germany as a country of inventors in a globalised economy. Its staff of just under 2,800 at three locations – Munich, Jena and Berlin – provide services to inventors and companies. They implement federal innovation strategies and develop the national, European and international protection systems.

G7 Heads of IP Office Conversation: Joint Statement

We, the Intellectual Property Offices operating in the Group of Seven (G7) countries, participated in the Intellectual Property Heads of Office Conversation 2023 organised by the Japan Patent Office (JPO) in metaverse format on 15th December 2023. On this occasion, we continued the discussion on international cooperation in intellectual property (IP) that was initiated in 2021 by the Intellectual Property Office of the United Kingdom (UKIPO), and continued in 2022 by the German Federal Ministry of Justice (BMJ) and the German Patent and Trade Mark Office (DPMA).

We recognise that an effective international IP ecosystem is necessary to incentivize innovation and creativity, which drive social and economic development worldwide. To accelerate innovation and creativity, a strong and active engagement is required not only from existing stakeholders within the IP ecosystem, but also from a wide range of additional actors, who can benefit from IP. It is also important to continuously improve the IP system so that it can respond to the latest challenges, such as IP issues in the new digital contexts, including the metaverse.

Diversity and Inclusion

We recognise the significance of building an environment that makes IP systems more accessible to all segments of society, including micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), start-ups, education organisations, youth, women and members of other underrepresented groups in our respective countries.

We also recognise the importance of international cooperation, including in education, outreach and awareness raising activities, to increase understanding of the crucial role that IP plays in innovation and creativity among innovators and creators in all segments of society.

We appreciate the work that the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is doing to contribute to improving public understanding of IP worldwide and explaining the benefits that IP can bring to communities and all segments of society. We will work constructively with WIPO to encourage all segments of society to participate in the IP ecosystem through a wide variety of initiatives.

We will continue to work to share our experiences and practices in promoting diversity and inclusion for a more inclusive global IP ecosystem.

Protection of IPRs in New Digital Contexts

We will work in our respective countries and collaboratively toward addressing IP issues including enforcement and infringement arising in new digital contexts such as the metaverse in order to protect creators and innovators.

To this end, we will continue to work to foster collaboration with national and international stakeholders, including WIPO, to exchange and promote best practices and identify approaches that can address the challenges of IP enforcement and infringement not only in off-line markets but also in online markets, including new digital contexts.

In this regard, we will also cooperate further to raise consumers‘ awareness on the risks related to counterfeiting and piracy in the new digital contexts, including the metaverse, to protect them from harm resulting from the purchase of infringing products and access to pirated content.

Pictures: JPO

Last updated: 8 February 2024