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Intellectual Property (IP) protection issues for VR/AR/MR - Patent, Copyright, Trademark (Pipe up!!)
Need I say more than the subject line? Well, I will, because I like to talk. So. Software IP has been debated endlessly and there's definitely no consensus yet. Let me start by linking to a few articles:
Wikipedia - Software Patent
Wikipedia - Software Copyright
Wikipedia - Trademark (general, not software-specific)
The Cost of Obtaining a Patent in the US
Wikipedia - General Patent
Wikipedia - Provisional (Patent) Application
Wikipedia - Non-disclosure agreement
I see a lot of people posting their projects on this board. But how wise is that? AR/MR is so new that new ideas can potentially be patented. Don't hold me to any specifics (this is NOT legal advice, and remember that laws differ drastically in different countries), but generally, when you publish a process, method, or invention (even by posting it online e.g. on this board) you give up your rights forever to patent that idea, and anyone else can steal it without owing you anything (or they could even try to patent a version of it themselves and prevent you from using it). My general understanding on the matter is that software can be patented if it's a new/novel/unique idea (i.e. that generally fulfills the purpose of a patent in general), as opposed to just another flat-screen first-person shooter. But aye, there's the rub! What about VR/AR/MR first-person shooters? Or games in general? There is so much room for innovation that certainly many ideas for VR/AR/MR programs in general could potentially fall under patent law.
Personally, I'm not going to post my project on this board unless I get more desperate. I think it can be patented, but patent attorneys are EXPENSIVE. For complex patents like software you can be talking $15,000 or more. (See the chart in the middle of the 4th link above). My current strategy is to pitch my AR idea privately to entities who may be willing to invest their resources. I reveal a small amount in hopes of piquing their interest, hoping they'll want to see more and agree to keep private anything else I send them, then maybe they'll be interested enough to help me patent my idea. (Preferably they'd be willing to sign an NDA with me, but I don't have any credentials, so I figure I just have to reveal a lot right away.) Another strategy is to declare a provisional patent application and then go telling everybody about it because it provides a layer of protection for 1 year, but that protection completely expires if a full nonprovisional isn't registered within that year and eventually granted.
Let me go on a bit about the difference in Trademark/Copyright/Patent:
Let's say I have an idea that you can look up at the sky with Hololens and the sky will be a different color every hour. Say I call this "SkyChange".
The term "SkyChange" is a trademark I could potentially register; I can say it's an unregistered trademark without registering it anywhere with limited rights, and then if I register it which is like a few hundred dollars(?), it's a registered trademark, more official and easier to prevent other people from using it. Also if I have a logo for "SkyChange", that also can fall under part of the trademark.
Any original pictures/images I use for SkyChange (e.g. that I've drawn of clouds that Hololens then displays), are generally copyrighted the moment they're saved to disc, even if I don't register them (e.g. with the U.S. copyright office for a small fee, but that would be a good idea!) The code itself can also potentially be considered copyrighted, but there's more debate about that.
A SkyChange patent would be the most difficult and expensive thing, titled something like "Method of using a device to change the color of the sky". Statistically speaking, extremely few inventors land a patent, and even then, 97% of all patents don't make any money. I'm narcissistic enough to think I'm one of the ones who can make it, but for most people I'd strongly recommend AGAINST pursuing a patent of any kind!!! I'd still like to hear people's ideas on the matter, though. (Note that patents are granted country to country, although you can file an international PCT patent that gets filtered down into most countries.)
Does anyone have any advice on finding funding for your project, e.g. that could be used to pay patent attorneys? Any advice on pitching a new VR/AR/MR idea to major entities to interest them purely on the idea, if you have no credentials? I could really use advice in this area.
Throw out any thoughts you have on any of these IP issues!