Facebook’s Ocu­lus VR bet turns into messy $2bn rift

The Star Early Edition - - BUSINESS REPORT -

FACEBOOK bet early on vir­tual re­al­ity, buy­ing Ocu­lus VR two-and-a-half years ago to get its ground­break­ing head­set.

Now it is fight­ing claims Ocu­lus Rift was built with stolen tech­nol­ogy and pro­moted with a false story about a young en­trepreneur tin­ker­ing in his par­ents’ garage.

What started as a fall out be­tween tech geeks is now a messy $2 bil­lion (R27bn) dis­pute.

The so­cial me­dia giant is ac­cused of com­plet­ing its ac­qui­si­tion of Ocu­lus in 2014 with “full aware­ness” that the “holy grail” know-how be­hind one of Sil­i­con Val­ley’s most promis­ing consumer de­vices was mis­ap­pro­pri­ated from an­other com­pany.

ZeniMax Me­dia is try­ing to show that it did the heavy lift­ing to de­velop the soft­ware and hard­ware for the vir­tual re­al­ity gog­gles, al­leg­ing a star em­ployee re­cruited by Ocu­lus stole its in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty. Facebook and the Ocu­lus ex­ec­u­tives named in the law­suit deny wrong­do­ing and say it was ZeniMax that was spin­ning re­vi­sion­ist his­tory.

If ZeniMax was suc­cess­ful at trial it would re­write the story of how Facebook emerged at the fore­front of the vir­tual re­al­ity boom.

ZeniMax traced the roots of the fight to 2012. That was when John Car­mack, one of its em­ploy­ees and the de­signer of block­buster games such as Doom and Quake, be­gan cor­re­spond­ing with Ocu­lus founder Palmer Luckey.

At the time Luckey was work­ing on a “prim­i­tive vir­tual re­al­ity head­set” that he named the Rift, ac­cord­ing to ZeniMax’s law­suit.

ZeniMax con­tended Car­mack was re­spon­si­ble for the break­throughs that trans­formed the Rift into a “pow­er­ful im­mer­sive vir­tual re­al­ity ex­pe­ri­ence”. But af­ter Car­mack and Luckey agreed to use the Rift to show­case a spe­cially con­fig­ured ver­sion of Doom 3 at a Los An­ge­les con­ven­tion in 2012, re­la­tions be­tween the star­tups quickly soured.

In­stead of dis­cussing how Ocu­lus would com­pen­sate ZeniMax, Luckey and Ocu­lus’s then chief ex­ec­u­tive, Bren­dan Iribe, al­legedly be­came “eva­sive and un­co­op­er­a­tive”. Next, they hired Car­mack, who was ac­cused of copy­ing thou­sands of doc­u­ments from his com­puter at ZeniMax.

ZeniMax is seek­ing $2bn in dam­ages, roughly what Facebook paid to ac­quire Ocu­lus.

In its de­fence, Facebook ar­gued in an Au­gust 2015 fil­ing that ZeniMax made no claim to own the tech­nol­ogy and as­serted no in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty rights un­til Facebook an­nounced its in­tent to pur­chase Ocu­lus in March 2014.

Car­mack said his em­ploy­ment agree­ment at ZeniMax al­lowed him to be in­volved in Ocu­lus as it was not a gam­ing com­pany in com­pe­ti­tion with ZeniMax.

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