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Augmented reality technology (AR), in which computer-generated images appear super-imposed upon a real-world environment, is quickly advancing to a point of general commercial application. While predictions about AR market size vary, most analysts expect the market to exceed $50 billion in the next three to four years. How consumers experience AR will likely vary, with some applications available through phones (Pokémon Go being the most famous example to date) and others through special AR glasses. An example of the latter case might be an immersive walking tour of New York in which users download an app and don glasses to experience the tour.

One potential revenue stream for this market is the sale of advertising superimposed in a real-world environment, combining the techniques of location-based AR and superimposition AR. In the walking tour described above, or a navigation tool on a phone, as the user traverses the city, they might see not only AR-generated information and directional signals, but also advertising superimposed on buildings or street furniture (bus shelters, kiosks, etc.). Such uses raise a number of intellectual property questions. For example, does the AR developer need permission from a building owner or a street furniture franchisee to superimpose branding or advertising on their property? Does a building owner have any intellectual property rights it can exclusively license to certain AR providers, thus prohibiting non-licensees from superimposing logos or advertising on their property? Would advertisers have a claim if AR advertising, perhaps of a competitor, was superimposed on and “replaced” their own real-world advertising or store signage? We consider these and other issues below.

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