Augmented Reality (AR) uses technology to overlay real world, physical environments with virtual components like light, sound, video, images or GPS data. Once seen as a futuristic and 'gimmicky' area, AR is growing at a rapid pace and will soon form part of our everyday technology. Microsoft recently unveiled its AR wearable technology, 'Hololens' which is geared towards gaming and design and comes in the form of a headset.
The second European Augmented Reality Marketing Conference and AR Business Exchange was held in Dublin last month and the conference heard that the AR market is set to increase to a $150 billion industry by 2020. As with all technological advances, new legal issues emerge and AR has already posed challenges to developers and legislators. Developers will want to protect the many intellectual property rights associated with the technology and will also seek to ensure that the technology itself will not infringe the IP rights of others.
Patents have already been granted for AR technology in the US, including those for Google Glass and Samsung's 3D electronic glasses. A quick search of the European Patent Register also indicates that hundreds of patent applications for AR inventions have been submitted for examination.
AR may also attract copyright protection by virtue of the creative text and images created. Other features which may attract copyright protection include maps, databases and compilations of data, user interface features, overall design, photos and underlying code. Trademarks will be useful in protecting the brands of AR companies in the traditional way. There is potential for AR itself to use trade marks in an infringing manner by overlapping real-world trade mark advertising with the trade mark of a competitor.
As AR technology advances and its use increases, the legal issues raised by its development will need to be grappled with.