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Lawsuit seeks $2 billion from Facebook over alleged theft of VR technology

Of the many technologies currently being developed for consumer use in Silicon Valley, the one perhaps generating the most headlines -- and the biggest corporate outlays -- is virtual reality. Indeed, analysts are predicting that this burgeoning market will generate more than $84 billion in sales in 2020.

Leading the way in the development of virtual reality -- or VR -- technology is none other than Facebook, which paid close to $2 billion in 2014 to acquire Oculus, the company behind the revolutionary Rift headset.

Interestingly enough, this acquisition of Oculus is at the epicenter of a potentially historic lawsuit filed by ZeniMax Media Inc. against the social networking giant that is seeking close to $2 billion in damages, and which got underway in a federal courthouse in Dallas earlier this week.

At its core, the complaint alleges that Oculus founders had developed only a "crude prototype that lacked a head mount, virtual-reality specific software, integrated motion sensors and other critical features and capabilities needed to create a viable product" back in 2012.

The complaint goes on to discuss, however, that through a series of various events, Oculus developed a working relationship with a ZeniMax employee working on VR technology, a legendary video game developer. This employee, in turn, eventually went to work for them and, prior to leaving ZeniMax, allegedly copied thousands of internal company files from his computer.

This alleged misappropriation of the company's intellectual property, says the complaint, helped transformed the Rift from its aforementioned primitive state into a "powerful immersive virtual reality experience." It goes on to accuse Facebook of having "full awareness" of this IP theft when it acquired Oculus.

For its part, Facebook has denied the allegations, pointing out that ZeniMax asserted no ownership claim or intellectual property rights relating to the Rift until it announced its intent to purchase Oculus. As for the employee who allegedly took company files, he has argued that his actions were within the scope of his employment agreement and that the company had previously declined to pursue development of a VR headset.

It will be fascinating to see how the trial unfolds in the weeks ahead, particularly whether Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg is called to the witness stand.

Stay tuned for updates …   

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