Allegations that Oculus, the VR headset maker bought by Facebook for $2 billion (£1.8bn) in 2014, used technology from another company are “wrong”, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg testified in a Dallas federal court on Tuesday.
Disputes between technology companies are far from rare, but the case brought by games developer ZeniMax against Oculus, later expanded to include Facebook, is unusual in having reached a jury trial.
Zuckerberg said he hadn’t testified in a public court before – he was deposed in a 2006 case brought by former Harvard classmates, but that deposition was made behind closed doors. The case was settled for a reported $65 million.
ZeniMax argues that John Carmack, known for his work on games such as Doom and Quake, collaborated with Oculus co-founder Palmer Luckey while Carmack was under contract to ZeniMax, and that the two later destroyed evidence of the collaboration.
The games company was involved in a dispute with Oculus as early as 2012, after the startup’s successful Kickstarter campaign, during which ZeniMax said its properties were used without permission to demonstrate the technology, for which it demanded compensation including equity in the firm.
But Zuckerberg testified he had “never even heard of ZeniMax before” at the time of the 2014 acquisition, and said he was unaware of any theft claims against Oculus at that time.
“It is pretty common when you announce a big deal or do something that all kinds of people just kind of come out of the woodwork and claim that they just own some portion of the deal,” he said, according to multiple published reports.
ZeniMax isn’t itself well known, but it owns the developers of a number of classic games titles, including Doom, Quake, Castle Wolfenstein, The Elder Scrolls and Fallout.
Prosecutors used the questioning to support ZeniMax’s position that Facebook rushed the deal through, and Zuckerberg agreed that the company needed to be able to “move quickly” to conclude acquisitions in the face of stiff competition.
The deal with Oculus was concluded over a weekend in 2014, he said, but later testified Facebook had researched the start-up for six months.
“The idea that Oculus technology is based on someone else’s is just wrong,” he said at one point, adding at another time that “there is no shared code in what we do”.
The testimony brought to light details about some of Facebook’s acquisitions that hadn’t previously been disclosed, including that Oculus had at first demanded $4bn, and that Facebook paid an additional $700m to retain staff and $300m in payouts for reaching milestones.
During Facebook’s $22bn purchase of WhatsApp in 2014 an unidentified company made a last-minute bid that was higher, but WhatsApp refused it due to its good relationship with Facebook, Zuckerberg said.
He testified that before seeing Oculus’ technology he had thought practicable virtual reality displays were decades away – but acknowledged that the technology is not yet mature.
“I don’t think that good virtual reality is fully there yet,” he said, according to a New York Times report. “It’s going to take five or 10 more years of development before we get to where we all want to go.”
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