The REAL Benefits of Patents for Virtual & Augmented Reality – How to Gain an Edge and Protect Novel Technologies from Competitors

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Unzipped Sex Tech Law Blog

This article was originally published in the October 2019 issue of XBiz World Magazine.

As we all in the adult industry know, virtual reality and augmented reality technologies are going to play a major role in the future of porn and pleasure products.  Huge advancements are being made in online porn platforms that involve VR, AR, web camming, or other tech.  Companies that are developing inventive solutions should consider how patents can give them an edge in this vastly growing marketplace.

Novel technologies (as opposed to naturally-occurring phenomena) are protectable by patent.  Many facets relating to VR or AR porn may be patentable.  For example, an improved VR camera, an improved system of stitching images, or an improved method of synchronizing sex toys to VR porn videos are just a few examples.

A patent is a document granted by a country’s government to a person or company giving the owner the exclusive rights to an invention for a period of time, usually 20 years.  These rights include the ability to make, use, sell, and import the invention.

Patents are national, or some cases regional, in scope, meaning that a patent is valid in the country (or nations of the region) in which is it granted.  Accordingly, if you would like protection in many different countries, you have to file in each of those countries or regions.  There are some international treaties, such as the Paris Convention, the Patent Cooperation Treaty, the European Convention, and the Hague Agreement that can help make the process more efficient for international filing.

It’s important to create a strategy around which markets you believe you’ll get the biggest “bang” for your buck, so to speak, as budgeting is crucial since it’s a big world out there.  When making that decision, you’ll have to look at the costs of the patent process, as compared to the size of each market, the legality of porn/sex toys in the area, and how strongly each of the countries enable enforcement of intellectual property.

In the United States, the process for obtaining a patent starts with an applicant’s submission of a patent application to the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO).  The USPTO reviews the application, and allows it or rejects it.  A rejection may argue that the technology is not novel, or is obvious based on what has come before it.  Most of the time, at least one rejection is issued.  This is because getting the best “claim scope” (i.e. the broadest possible rights) is like a negotiation where you might settle in the middle somewhere in between what you originally asked for and what the patent office is initially willing to agree to.  It may take a couple of rounds back and forth with the patent office to get to an allowance.  Once allowed, you pay an issue fee, and a patent is granted.

The procedure for attaining a patent abroad is relatively similar in many respects to the routine I’ve outlined here in the U.S.  The process can take years, but there are some ways you can fast-track it if you so desire.  We’ll leave that hot topic for another day though.

Patents can help you monetize the hard work and risk you put into research and development for innovations.  It’s essential to remember however that, unlike in a criminal proceeding where the government prosecutes a defendant, in a patent dispute, it is up to the patent owner to prosecute a lawsuit against an infringer.   So, getting a patent is not the end of the road, but instead, is an important first step on a long path to building your business.  Hopefully, that path is fruitful along the way, and the rewards reaped far outweigh the costs.

A tip for preserving those possible returns is to maintain confidentiality of your invention as required by applicable patent laws.  Although I know it’s hard not to scream it from the rooftops (like during a fantastic orgasm), it’s extremely imperative to keep any innovation secret and not enable it for use on your platform until you get a patent application on file.  In some countries, you have one year from your first public disclosure/use to file for a patent.  In others, any public disclosure prior to filing can mean you are no longer entitled to valid patent rights.

If your online business is involved in pushing the bounds of technology in VR, AR, camming, or another technology forward, keep these pointers in mind.  It can be a big boost in revenue to have a capability, unique to your platform, that competitors are prevented from using.  And hey, just like sex, who wouldn’t want more… money, right??

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