Zuckerberg To Testify In Oculus vs. ZeniMax Media Intellectual Property Dispute
Apparently Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg cannot escape giving a deposition in the case between ZeniMax Media and Oculus, as he's just been ordered to testify.
Oculus and ZeniMax Media have an ongoing dispute over intellectual property and Zuckerberg must testify because he has "unique knowledge" of the matter. The Facebook CEO gained that knowledge through his valuation of Oculus, as well as his decision to acquire the company.
For those unfamiliar with Oculus, the company focuses on wearable virtual reality (VR) and has drawn the interest of Facebook, which wants a piece of the VR pie.
Games publisher ZeniMax Media filed a lawsuit against Oculus back in May 2014, alleging that it shared intellectual property with Oculus under a non-disclosure agreement, yet Oculus went ahead and exploited that intellectual property. Through that exploitation, Oculus was able to improve its "crude prototype" of a VR headset.
When Palmer Luckey, founder of Oculus, was still working on a headset, he collaborated with John Carmack, who at the time was the technical director of id Software, a subsidiary of ZeniMax. Cormack later started working at Oculus back in August 2013.
Cormack, as well as other ZeniMax talent, reportedly joined forces with Oculus to add hardware parts and develop specialized software for a more advanced Rift, enabling the gadget to run id Software's Doom 3: BFG Edition computer game. According to the ZeniMax filing from May 2014, that transformation that allowed the Rift to run the game demonstrated the VR technology of ZeniMax. No viable Oculus Rift product would have been possible without it, the complaint further alleged, while also adding that ZeniMax received no compensation for it.
Following a successful demonstration of the technology of the E3 convention back in June 2012, Luckey founded Oculus with the goal of turning the Rift into a commercial product. Oculus stated that none of its technology had any contribution from ZeniMax.
The plaintiffs (i.e. ZeniMax) had asked for Zuckerberg's deposition before taking any other depositions in the case, but last month Facebook asked the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Dallas division, for a ruling that Zuckerberg should not be ordered to give a deposition in the case.
As a reminder, a deposition means recording a witness' oral testimony outside a courtroom. The practice typically aims to uncover relevant facts before the actual trial kicks off.
"This is clearly improper under the apex doctrine, which requires a party to demonstrate that a high-ranking corporate executive has unique, relevant personal knowledge before attempting to take their deposition," argued the Facebook filing, as cited by PCWorld.
The filing further explained that the litigant should first rely on less intrusive options and only after it has exhausted those, go after more intrusive ones such as a deposition from the Facebook CEO.
ZeniMax, meanwhile, claimed that Zuckerberg tested Rift VR headset prototypes himself, which gave him a unique view on the matter. Those prototypes allegedly included features based on ZeniMax technology, which were misappropriated. Based on those prototype tests, Facebook decided back in March 2014 to purchase Oculus in a roughly $2 billion deal.
Despite Facebook's requests, U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Stickney ruled that Zuckerberg would not be exempt from giving a deposition. Still, the judge decided that Zuckerberg's deposition ought to follow other depositions, after "less intrusive discovery" is completed. In other words, information that can be uncovered through the depositions of lower-ranking employees should precede the CEO's deposition.
A recent Facebook filing also argued that Zuckerberg had nothing to do with the technology that lies at the core of ZeniMax's complaint, as the Facebook CEO had no ties to Oculus or ZeniMax while said technology was under development.