Categories: Innovation

Oculus Sued By VR Tech Start-Up

Facebook-owned virtual-reality (VR) headset maker Oculus has been sued by a Hawaii-based start-up called Total Recall Technologies (TRT), accusing Oculus founder Palmer Luckey of improperly using confidential information while working with TRT.

Oculus and Luckey are both named in the complaint (PDF), filed in the US District Court of Northern California last week, which alleges Luckey used knowledge related to patented TRT technology in building the Oculus Rift VR headset.

Patented technology

Oculus has yet to produce a finished product, having provided only a series of prototypes to developers since 2012, but was attracted attention when it was acquired by Facebook for $2 billion (£1.29bn) last year.

According to the lawsuit, TRT partners Ron Igra and Thomas Seidl patented a method for taking video of a real-world scene and representing it in a head-mounted display using an “ultra-wide field of view”.

Seidl in 2011 asked Luckey to build a prototype display for TRT, and throughout late 2011 and into 2012 provided “confidential feedback and information to Luckey in order to improve the design of the head-mounted display”, as well as paying for parts, according to the lawsuit.

Luckey signed a non-disclosure agreement on 1 August, 2011, and shipped a completed prototype to TRT on 23 August, 2011, according to the complaint.

“At all relevant times, the information provided to Luckey by TRT was confidential, and TRT expected the information to remain confidential,” the lawsuit says, adding that the start-up expected “exclusive rights to the design”.

Breach of contract

Luckey improperly used information and materials from his collaboration with TRT in the design of the Oculus Rift headset, which he launched via a Kickstarter campaign in 2012, during the term of his agreement with TRT, the complaint alleges.

“Luckey took the information he learned from the Partnership, as well as the prototype that he built for the TRT using design features and other confidential information and materials supplied by the Partnership, and passed it off to others as his own,” it states, noting that Luckey formed Oculus LLC in June 2012.

Oculus has shipped two developer kits for the Rift since 2012, and has demonstrated a third prototype. It has said the first consumer version will be available in the first quarter of next year.

The lawsuit, for which TRT has retained Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, which has also worked on behalf of Google and Samsung, seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages for charges including breach of contract and wrongful exploitation of TRT’s intellectual property.

Facebook declined to comment.

ZeniMax lawsuit

In a similar case, Oculus was sued in 2014 by ZeniMax, a games publisher that owns the development studios behind popular titles including Doom, alleging that Doom co-creator John Carmack provided “fundamental technology” and information to Oculus before leaving Zenimax to join the VR company last year.

That lawsuit accused Oculus of “illegally misappropriating ZeniMax trade secrets relating to virtual reality technology, and infringing ZeniMax copyrights and trademarks”.

Zenimax-owned Id Software makes immersive 3D games of the kind targeted by the upcoming Oculus headset, as well as competing devices from the likes of Sony and Chinese hardware maker HTC.

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Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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