INTERNET LAW - TRADEMARK PROTECTION IN SECOND LIFE: USPTO GRANTS PROTECTION TO AN AVATAR

Staff Attorneys, IBLS Editorial Board
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The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) approved a trademark registration filed by a person seeking to protect her avatar image, which represents the content services provided by the avatar’s creator in the Second Life virtual world. Commentators have noted that this decision is groundbreaking as it opens doors for further real life trademark protection for images used in virtual worlds.

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Alyssa LaRoche runs a virtual content and services business in Second Life, a three-dimensional virtual world which opened to the public in 2003. As part of the promotion of her business, LaRoche created an avatar image of herself – her alter ego,– which represents her business. The image is called “Aimee Weber” and features a young woman with pigtails and glasses, wearing high black boots, striped tights, green tutu, a see-through green shirt, and brilliant blue wings.

In November, 2008, the law offices of Grossman Tucker Perreault & Pfleger announced that they successfully registered the trademark for Aimee Weber with the USPTO, which is believed to be the first ever trademark registration for an avatar. USPTO trademark protection for an avatar image, that represents a business, indicates that the USPTO considers use of a trademark in a virtual world to be “a use in interstate commerce,” which is a requirement for obtaining a federal trademark registration. Therefore, the USPTO’s decision signals that a virtual world entity may be afforded real world trademark protection.

Benjamin Duranske, an attorney and author of “Virtual Law: Navigating the Legal Landscape of Virtual Worlds,” has noted that “the Aimee Weber trademark is not as strange as its might seem. Trademarking an avatar is new, but it makes sense. After all, McDonald’s trademarked Ronald back in 1967. ‘Aimee Weber’ is just the emblem or logo that Alyssa LaRoche uses for her business, and legally, it’s no different than a costumed character in front of a sandwich shop.”

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Staff Attorneys, IBLS Editorial Board

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