Earlier this week Patently Apple posted a report titled “Hugo Barra Set to Lead Facebook’s Virtual Reality Business.” Just as Barra gets started there’s a major shadow being cast against Oculus over alleged stolen source code by famed game developer John Carmack who admitted under oath to downloading the code before leaving id Software for a position at Oculus. An interesting legal case came to light yesterday covering Facebook’s Oculus. The Attorneys for video game publisher ZeniMax asked a Dallas federal jury to give it $4 billion during closing arguments Thursday in its case claiming Facebook’s virtual reality subsidiary stole its headset technology.
The request doubles the $2 billion the Rockville, Md.-based company originally asked for. ZeniMax and subsidiary id Software, of Richardson, Texas, sued Oculus VR and founder Palmer Luckey in May 2013, two months after Facebook bought Oculus for $2 billion.
ZeniMax claims Oculus and Luckey violated a nondisclosure agreement in the creation of the Oculus Rift virtual-reality headset and that Luckey relied on the help of id Software employees during Rift’s development.
ZeniMax’s attorney Tony Sammi, with Skadden Arps in New York, told jurors that Palmer Luckey was only a hobbyist and not a software expert. He said id Software co-founder John Carmack, who conversed with Luckey during development, was vital to what makes Rift a desirable virtual reality experience.
Carmack is best known as lead programmer of id Software’s hit first-person shooter games Wolfenstein 3D, Doom and Quake. In 2013, he became chief technology officer at Oculus.
Sammi told jurors the final functionality of Oculus’ code came from Carmack and ZeniMax’s Rage VR testbed and Doom 3 BFG Edition, in violation of Luckey’s nondisclosure agreement. He asked for $2 billion in compensatory damages and $2 million in punitive damages, citing Facebook’s high net worth.
During a combative direct examination last week, Luckey testified that he did not violate the nondisclosure agreement. He said that when he demonstrated his headset to investors in 2014, he executed the plaintiffs’ code through the headset but did not take the source code itself.
Defense attorney Beth Wilkinson, with Wilkinson Walsh in Washington, Wilkinson cited testimony by a forensics expert that there was no evidence of copying in Oculus’ code, as well as testimony by Carmack that Oculus never received actual source code for either the Rage VR testbed or Doom 3 BFG Edition.
The jury is expected to deliberate for several days.
Polygon reported on parts of this case earlier this week by noting that “If ZeniMax wins its case against Facebook and Oculus, the company could seek an injunction against the Oculus Rift headset and potentially the Samsung Gear VR headset, preventing the sale of the devices and delivering a devastating blow to the still emerging retail VR industry.”
Joe Ahmad, a founding partner at Houston law firm Ahmad, Zavitsanos, Anaipakos, Alavi & Mensing P.C. told Polygon that “Injunctions are often granted to a plaintiff that proves misappropriation of trade secrets because the theories of damages are difficult to show and don’t capture the harm, particularly if the device with the misappropriated trade secrets is still being sold. So the court could stop the device from being sold (assuming plaintiff proves misappropriation) to stop the harm.”
While Ahmad declined to say how strong a case he thinks ZeniMax has, he did say that it wasn’t good that Carmack downloaded information, including some ZeniMax code, on his last day, something Carmack confirmed during testimony last week. You could read more about this case here.
If ZeniMax wins their case next week then it’ll certainly be a big black eye for Oculus and its owner Facebook.
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