Mark Zuckerberg takes the stand in $2 billion lawsuit claiming Oculus theft

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg testified in a Dallas court Tuesday to defend his company in a $2 billion case that accuses Facebook’s virtual reality company of corporate theft, employee poaching and an attempted coverup.

The case deals with Oculus’s Rift headset, which was first introduced in a 2012 Kickstarter campaign. Facebook bought the company in 2014 for $2 billion; the headset continued in development before going on sale in 2016. ZeniMax Media, a major game publisher known for games such as “Doom” and “Fallout,” says it has proof that Oculus executives in 2013 stole ZeniMax code and other documents necessary to build the Oculus Rift headset.

“That evidence includes the theft of trade secrets and highly confidential information, including computer code,” said ZeniMax in a statement ahead of Zuckerberg’s testimony. The company said it also has proof of “intentional destruction of evidence to cover up their wrongdoing.”

Most of the case, ZeniMax Media Inc. v. Oculus VR Inc, centers on Oculus and its chief technology officer John Carmack – one of the industry’s most revered game programmers, who is perhaps best-known for the “Doom” franchise. Carmack left ZeniMax in 2013 for Oculus. According to Zenimax, he not only took “t housands of pages of ZeniMax’s confidential documents” but also broke an agreement not to recruit ZeniMax employees.

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But the publisher is also going after Facebook itself, trying to prove it ignored signs that Oculus wasn’t being truthful about its technology.

Facebook has said in statements that ZeniMax’s claims, first filed in 2014, are outrageous and untrue. It has also said that the publisher never seemed to care about Carmack’s supposed theft until it got wind of Facebook’s planned $2 billion acquisition deal – after earlier rejecting an early opportunity to invest in Oculus.

In a statement ahead of Thursday’s trial, Oculus said: “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 company has also said in previous statements that today’s version of the Rift does not contain a single line of code that can be traced to ZeniMax.

On the stand, Zuckerberg said that ZeniMax had come “out of the woodwork” with its claims once it realized how valuable the company could be, New York Times reporter Mike Isaac tweeted from the courtroom.

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Lawyers asked Zuckerberg, who had ditched his trademark hoodie for a suit and tie, whether Facebook knew ZeniMax had laid claim to some of Oculus’s technology before the deal, Isaac reported. ZeniMax attorneys pointed in particular to a text conversation between Zuckerberg and Facebook corporate development Amin Zoufonoun that suggest Zuckerberg encouraged his deputy to push the deal through despite questions about Oculus’s truthfulness.

Isaac also reported that Facebook set aside just one weekend to do its legal diligence on researching Oculus before buying the firm – a timeline Zuckerberg confirmed under oath.

Lawyer, incredulously: “Your plan was to begin legal diligence on Friday, and sign the deal on monday.”

The fact that Zuckerberg appeared in person in a Texas court seems to underscore comments he has made about virtual reality’s importance to the company. Zuckerberg has said repeatedly that he believes Oculus and virtual reality technology, while often viewed as gaming technologies now, hold the key to future social interaction. Facebook wants to be a leader in the space, and to see VR videos shared on its network, used for real-time activities such as long-distance poker matches and as a replacement for teleconferencing.