Metaverse gathers pace in China as Baidu, NetEase join rush to register trademarks related to the internet’s next phase

·4-min read

Metaverse, the concept of a shared virtual environment that users access via the internet, is gathering momentum in China, as Baidu and NetEase join other Big Tech firms in applying for trademarks related to this field amid concerns over the risks involved in the new business model.

NetEase, the Hangzhou-based video gaming giant, and its subsidiaries filed dozens of metaverse-related trademark applications in late October, according to Chinese business registration tracking platform Qichacha.

The trademark applications filed by the NetEase group include monikers that combine the word “metaverse” with the names of the company and its artificial intelligence (AI) research and gaming units, such as “NetEase metaverse”, “Fuxi metaverse” and “Leihuo metaverse”. These applications cover various categories including design research, communications services, and education and entertainment.

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Chinese search engine and AI systems provider Baidu applied to trademark the term “metaapp” in the scientific instruments and design research categories, according to data from Qichacha.

Baidu’s applications were filed on October 29, a day after Facebook chairman and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg announced the company’s rebranding as Meta to better reflect the future direction of the global social media powerhouse.

The metaverse – a term coined by American writer Neal Stephenson for his 1992 science-fiction novel Snow Crash – refers to a lifelike, immersive virtual world where people can meet, work and play using devices including virtual reality (VR) headsets, video gaming consoles, and gadgets that offer augmented reality technology like smartphones and smart glasses. Many consider the metaverse as the next phase of the internet.

Baidu and NetEase did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Thursday.

While the metaverse remains in its nascent stage, Chinese Big Tech companies’ recent decision to hop on this bandwagon shows that the stakes are potentially high in this emerging internet business model.

Tencent Holdings, which runs the world’s largest video gaming business by revenue and multipurpose super app WeChat, is said to be sharpening its focus on metaverse-like developments by assembling an international team for a new studio that will develop advanced games for the next stage of the internet, according to a report by the South China Morning Post that cited four people with knowledge of the matter.

In September, e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding filed to register several metaverse-related trademarks after Tencent filed to register nearly 100 trademarks related to that field in the same month. Alibaba owns the Post.

Beijing-based tech unicorn ByteDance, operator of hit short video-sharing app TikTok, in August acquired VR start-up Pico Interactive after investing around 100 million yuan (US$15.6 million) in April into Mycodeview, the company behind gaming platform Reworld, a competitor to metaverse incumbent Roblox.

Still, a Baidu executive has expressed his weariness about the growing hype behind recent metaverse-related developments.

“The concept of metaverse is reaching the peak of over-anticipation,” said Baidu vice-president Ma Jie in a video clip, which has been circulating on Chinese social media, from a live-streamed company event on Tuesday. “I believe the bubble will burst in the second half of next year or the year after. When the tide goes out, it will be time for a showdown.”

A state-run think tank in China has warned of national security risks involved with the metaverse. One risk cited by the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, which is affiliated with China’s Ministry of State Security, in a research note published on October 30 is “technological hegemony”, as the gap in metaverse development widens between developed countries and emerging economies.

State-owned newspaper the Securities Times warned in a commentary last month that if people “blindly invest in such grand and illusionary concepts as the metaverse, they will be burned in the end”.

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