This is a story about McDonald’s, trademarks and the metaverse – plus how to find great ideas for your business with next to no effort.
Let’s start by explaining where to look: Go to the US Patent and Trademark Office website. Click through to the Trademark Electronic Search System.
Then look up your competitors. Or look for companies that you find innovative and creative, or that are big enough to invest a lot in research and design and marketing.
You will be amazed at what you will find.
Let’s say you looked up McDonald’s around mid-February. You would have found a slew of new trademark filings, along with the new product and service categories McDonald’s says they want to use — mostly in the metaverse.
These are plans that were impossible to predict a few years ago, such as:An application for ‘McDelivery’, to be used for ‘online retail services with virtual goods’. Or else, “McDonald’s” itself, to be used in conjunction with “online real and virtual concerts and other virtual events.” Or else, “McDonald’s” again, but this time used to “operate a virtual restaurant with real and virtual goods, [and] operating a virtual restaurant online with home delivery.”
The list goes on, and McDonald’s isn’t alone. In the weeks since McDonald’s signed up, fast food companies ranging from Arby’s and Burger King, to Dunkin’ and Hooters, to Taco Bell and Tim Horton’s, have all filed for trademarks in the metaverse, along with many others.
(Panera filed its trademark applications for “Panera” and “Paneraverse” the day before McDonald’s in the virtual world. Missing in the filings so far, surprisingly: Starbucks, Subway, Wendy’s, and Chipotle.)
However, in terms of volume and creative ideas, McDonald’s applications stand out, explains Josh Gerben, an intellectual property attorney in Washington who closely monitors these files:
“McDonald’s is unique, in that many of these metaverse and NFT and Web3 trademark registrations that we’ve seen – they’ve all been relatively standard…
“Oh, we’re going to be in the metaverse” or “Oh, we’re going to have virtual goods.”
McDonald’s was absolutely unique with their records, and a little more thoroughness with some of the planning they show.”
Now is probably a good time to step back and make three general comments about trademarks:First, trademarks cover words or brands as well as specific uses. That is why the companies behind both Delta Air Lines and Delta Faucet may have trademarks that use the word “Delta”, and United Airlines and United Van Lines both have trademarks “United”. They use them for different categories of goods and services. Second, this “usage” requirement is why companies are now rushing to register their brands for use in the metaverse. They couldn’t have predicted this kind of usage in their original trademark filings, because the metaverse didn’t exist yet. Third, you can’t just register trademarks for every possible use in order to reserve them or exclude competitors. Instead, you must demonstrate that you are actually using them for the purposes you claim. Specifically, you get four years (including extensions) to provide proof.
So let’s put these three points together. For example, McDonald’s originally filed on May 4, 1961 to register its name as a trademark (for “drive-in restaurant services”).
A full 61 years later – February 4 this year – they applied for “virtual concerts and other virtual events” as I shared above.
This tells us there’s a very good chance McDonald’s actually plans to host these kinds of virtual events under its name by February 2026 — four years after the filing. (By the way, I’ve asked McDonald’s for comment on all of this, but haven’t heard back.)
Now, if you’re running a business, I think there are two smart takeaways from this whole exercise.
Takeaway No. 1: Look up savvy companies and see what plans they have articulated in their trademark filings and see if they inspire you. For example, after thinking about McDonald’s applications, you might ask yourself:Can you think of creative ways to use your brand in the metaverse, even if they have little to do with your core business? Can you offer NFTs or other digital products? Also a question that more people should probably ask: Should you too? Could you provide a user interface in the metaverse that allows you to sell and deliver physical products in the real world?
Takeaway No. 2: Register your brands. Doing so will ensure that you will not expose yourself to legal claims that you are infringing someone else’s trademarks.
But also, if you ever need to enforce your rights — say, by asking a platform like Amazon to remove counterfeit products from your products — chances are you’ll need to show the registered trademark to get a resolution.
“We’re getting panic calls from people saying, I haven’t registered my trademark and I need to file a petition with Amazon,” Gerben said. “It’s like, well, it’s going to take 10 months; it’s not something we can snap our fingers and let happen. It’s something you really have to plan and do in advance.”
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not Inc.com’s.
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