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