In Neal Stephenson’s 1992 science fiction novel, Snow Crash, humans interact as avatars in the “Metaverse,” the collective product of online shared three-dimensional space.[1] As imagined by Stephenson, this “Metaverse” has been created by all virtual worlds[2] – it is an augmented and enhanced physical reality, a physically persistent virtual space.[3] The novel is set in Los Angeles during the early 21st Century. The federal government of the United States has relinquished its authority to private entrepreneurs and organizations. Franchising, individual sovereignty, and private automobiles reign supreme. Highway companies compete for traffic in the real world while the Metaverse is populated and travelled by user-controlled avatars and system daemons.

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Authored By:

Theodore C. Max

Copyright © 2011 the International Trademark Association. Reprinted with permission from The Trademark Reporter, 101 TMR 282 (2011).

[1] Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash (1992).

[2] One of the first references to virtual reality appeared in Ray Bradbury’s short story, “The Veldt.” R. Bradbury, The Veldt, a/k/a The World the Children Made, The Saturday Evening Post, Sept. 23, 1950.

[3] Stephenson, supra note 1, at 470. (“The words ‘avatar’ (in the sense used here) and ‘Metaverse’ are my invention, which I came up with when I decided that existing words (such as ‘virtual reality’) were simply too awkward to use. . . . [A]fter the first publication of Snow Crash I learned that the term ‘avatar’ has actually been in use for a number of years as part of a virtual reality system called Habitat. . . .”).