Oculus founder Palmer Luckey broke a non-disclosure agreement with games publisher ZeniMax, a jury in Texas found on Wednesday, leaving the Facebook-owned virtual-reality company and its executives on the hook for $500m in damages.
However, the jury found Oculus not liable on the potentially more costly allegation of stealing trade secrets from ZeniMax, which previously employed the VR company’s chief technology officer, John Carmack.
Oculus said it would appeal the verdict, which also found its executives liable for copyright infringement.
ZeniMax owns Doom developer id Software, as well as Fallout and Elder Scrolls creator Bethesda. Mr Luckey worked there as a contractor before launching Oculus’ $2.4m Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign. Mr Carmack, founder of id, sold his company to ZeniMax in 2009 and left to join Oculus in August 2013, six months before Facebook bought the VR start-up for $2bn.
ZeniMax filed its lawsuit soon after that deal was announced, claiming that Oculus had used its R&D to build its Rift VR headset, which went on sale last year. It had sought as much as $4bn in compensation and punitive damages for what it called a “heist”.
Denying the allegations, Oculus accused the publisher of a “transparent attempt to take advantage” of the sale. Facebook chief executives Mark Zuckerberg and Oculus’ Brendan Iribe gave evidence during January’s case, alongside Mr Carmack and Mr Luckey.
ZeniMax did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
An Oculus spokesperson said the verdict would not affect work on the Rift or its other products.
“The heart of this case was about whether Oculus stole ZeniMax’s trade secrets, and the jury found decisively in our favour,” Oculus said. “We’re obviously disappointed by a few other aspects of today’s verdict, but we are undeterred. Oculus products are built with Oculus technology…We look forward to filing our appeal and eventually putting this litigation behind us.”