Palmer Luckey, co-founder of Oculus VR.
David Paul Morris © 2015 Bloomberg Finance LP
By David Z. Morris
January 21, 2017

This week saw major developments in a court trial between ZeniMax Media Inc. and Facebook. ZeniMax claims that it contributed substantial resources to the development of the Oculus Rift VR headset, which was purchased by Facebook for more than $2 billion in 2014. Zenimax is seeking damages of $2 billion for violations of intellectual property, and could also seek an injunction halting the sale of the Rift hardware.

At the center of ZeniMax’s claims is legendary games developer John Carmack, who began working with Luckey while Carmack was still employed by ZeniMax through its Id Software unit. ZeniMax claims that Carmack used ZeniMax resources to improve to Oculus Rift prototype, then stole data from ZeniMax computers before taking a position as Chief Technology Officer at Oculus in 2013.

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In its suit, initially filed in May of 2014, ZeniMax essentially argues that Luckey isn’t truly the inventor of the Oculus Rift, saying Luckey “lacked the training, expertise, resources or know-how” to develop a viable VR system. According to ZeniMax’s suit, the widely-told story of Luckey creating the Rift over many years of focused tinkering is “false and fanciful.”

On Tuesday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified on that and other questions in a Dallas courtroom. According to the Dallas Morning News, Zuckerberg said that while ZeniMax sent a letter to Facebook shortly after the Oculus aquisition outlining its claims against Carmack and Luckey, the claims were not considered credible. Zuckerberg said he was “highly confident that Oculus products are built on Oculus technology.”

On Wednesday, Oculus Rift inventor Palmer Luckey took the stand, his first time back in the public eye after it was revealed he had bankrolled a group producing pro-Donald Trump material online. ZeniMax’s questioning, as reported by Polygon, focused on the fact that Luckey has little formal engineering education training, and on a nondisclosure agreement signed by Luckey when using ZeniMax assets at an Oculus demonstration.

For more on VR, watch our video.

The trial is expected to last for about two more weeks. If ZeniMax is able to convince the court of its claims, the consequences for the emerging virtual reality industry could be broad. In addition to any cash settlement, ZeniMax would have the option to seek an injunction halting Oculus Rift sales.

 

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