Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared in a federal courtroom in Dallas on Tuesday (17 January) to defend his social media company and subsidiary Oculus in a $2bn (£1.6bn) lawsuit which claimed that they stole the innovative virtual reality technology from ZeniMax Media.
The parent company of Bethesda, Arkane and id Software filed a lawsuit in 2014 accused that Oculus executives stole ZeniMax code, intellectual property and trade secrets, and destroyed the evidence "to cover up their wrongdoing."
ZeniMax claimed in a revised 2016 complaint that Oculus CTO John Carmack "copied thousands of documents from a computer at ZeniMax to a USB devise" and later returned to the company's premises after his employment was terminated "to take a customised tool for developing VR Technology belonging to ZeniMax that itself is part of ZeniMax's VR Technology" without their permission.
Wearing a suit and tie, instead of his usual T-shirt and jeans, Zuckerberg denied the accusations that Oculus, which Facebook acquired in 2014, stole the VR technology. He also revealed that the social media giant bought Oculus for $3bn, instead of the previously reported $2bn price tag. The company spent $700m to retain employees and another $300m in payouts for reaching milestones, he said, noting that the Oculus initially wanted $4bn.
"I'm here because I believe [these accusations] are false and I think it's important to testify to that," Zuckerberg said, reporters from the New York Times who were inside the Dallas courtroom tweeted. "The idea that Oculus products are based on someone else's technology is just wrong."
ZeniMax's legal team accused Facebook of not carrying out due diligence when purchasing Oculus with the deal occurring over a single weekend.
"Your plan was to begin legal diligence on Friday and sign the deal on Monday?" an attorney asked Zuckerberg, which he confirmed. However, Zuckerberg noted that the deal was delayed and said in a later testimony that the social media company researched Oculus for months.
"We were having a lot of conversations internally on our side whether this was the right thing to go forward and do," Zuckerberg testified. "Everyone will admit $2 billion is a lot of investment." He said he was not aware of any theft allegations and claims made by ZeniMax and Oculus at the time.
"Being able to move quickly not only increases our chances of getting the deal done, but it keeps us from having to pay a lot more as the deal process drives out," Zuckerberg said.
During one particularly heated exchange between Zuckerberg and ZeniMax's attorney Tony Sammi, the tech executive said the VR technology was not fully developed when Facebook acquired Oculus.
"Improving on that technology doesn't make it yours," Sammi said. "If you steal my bike, and you paint it and put a bell on it, does that make it your bike."
Zuckerberg responded, "No," but added that "the idea that Oculus technology is based on someone else's is just wrong."
When asked by ZeniMax's attorney how much Carmack received in the deal, Zuckerberg responded, "A lot of money."
The trial is expected to last about three weeks. Oculus founder Palmer Luckey, CEO Brendan Iribe and other Oculus employees will also be called to the stand to testify about Facebook's acquisition of Oculus, details regarding the development of the Oculus Rift headset and whether Carmack violated his employment contract with ZeniMax.
"It is pretty common when you announce a big or do something that all kinds of people just come out of the wordwork and claim that they just own some portion of the deal," Zuckerberg said. "I know that our legal team would look into this and examine this, but they aren't going to take a lot of my time on something they don't think is credible.
"Like most people in the court, I've never even heard of ZeniMax before."