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Mark Zuckerberg to testify in $2bn VR theft claim case

Mark Zuckerberg is expected to argue Facebook-owned Oculus made VR technology a reality without help of IP ZeniMax Media claims it stole

Facebook co-founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg is expected to testify in a court case claiming that Facebook-owned Oculus stole virtual reality (VR) technology from ZeniMax Media.

The company, which owns games developer id Software, is reportedly suing Facebook for $2bn, claiming that Oculus copied its early innovations in VR when developing the Oculus Rift headset.

Facebook acquired Oculus in a $2bn deal in 2014 ahead of the release of Oculus Rift, saying virtual reality technology was a strong candidate to emerge as the next social and communications platform.

Zuckerberg is due to appear in a Dallas court on 17 January 2017 and is expected to argue that ZeniMax was slow to appreciate the potential of VR, and that it was work done by Oculus that made VR into the valuable technology it is today, according to the BBC.

Oculus said in a statement that its founders have “invested a wealth of time and money in VR” in the belief that the technology can “fundamentally transform the way people interact and communicate”.

“We’re disappointed that another company is using wasteful litigation to attempt to take credit for technology that it did not have the vision, expertise or patience to build,” the statement said.

ZeniMax has accused games designer and id Software co-founder John Carmack of sharing VR intellectual property with Oculus in the four months he worked for both companies, as well as for taking it with him when he left id Software in November 2013 for Oculus, where he is now chief technology officer.

In court papers, ZeniMax said: “Carmack secretly and illegally copied thousands of documents containing ZeniMax’s intellectual property from his computer at ZeniMax to a USB storage device which he wrongfully took with him to Oculus.”

ZeniMax also said Carmack violated his employee agreement and confidentiality clauses with the company.

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However, earlier in the hearing, which began on 9 January 2017, Carmack’s lawyers argued that his contract explicitly allowed him to work with other companies that did not compete with ZeniMax.

Carmack’s lawyers said the IP ZeniMax claims to have lost were “the fruits of Mr Carmack’s participation and involvement with [Oculus founder] Palmer Luckey and Oculus”, and therefore did not belong to ZeniMax.

ZeniMax said Luckey, who is also scheduled to testify in the case, lacked the necessary expertise and technical know-how to create a viable virtual reality headset and had relied on ZeniMax IP to create the Oculus Rift prototype that impressed Facebook.

ZeniMax also claimed that Oculus deliberately destroyed evidence in an attempt to cover up theft of some of the foundational elements of its VR headset and the tech behind it, according to news site Polygon, which said the accusation may be based on an interpretation of findings of a court-appointed forensic expert who was ordered to examine Carmack’s computer.

Facebook’s defence is that Oculus was forced to seek another investor when ZeniMax chose not to invest in VR technology, and that ZeniMax showed interest in VR only after Facebook’s  acquisition of Oculus was made public.

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