Isle Firm Accuses Oculus of Stealing VR Tech
A Hawaii-based company this week accused Oculus Rift and its founder Palmer Luckey of building a virtual reality hardware company with information stolen from its own research and development.
The lawsuit, filed on Wednesday, says that Ron Igra and Thomas Seidl partnered to form Total Recall Development in Hawaii in 2010 with the aim of “developing immersive 3D technology, including cameras and head mounted displays.” The pair says they met Luckey in December of that year, and by the summer of 2011, engaged him to build a prototype for them.
Luckey delivered the prototype hardware to Total Recall Development in August 2011, having agreed to a “nondisclosure, exclusivity and payments agreement,” according to the suit. But in 2012, they said, “Luckey took the information he learned from the partnership, as well as the prototype that he built for the TRT using design features and other confidential information and materials supplied by the partnership, and passed it off to others as his own.”
Specifically, Luckey launched a Kickstarter campaign to crowdfund a “highly immersive, wide field of view, stereoscopic head-mounted display at an affordable price,” which he called Oculus Rift.
As the tech world knows, that Kickstarter campaign raised over $2.4 million from 9,522 backers, nearly ten times its goal. The startup only got as far as releasing advance versions of its hardware for developers before being acquired by Facebook for $2 billion.
This lawsuit comes two weeks after Oculus finally announced the release date of its consumer hardware. Total Recall Development isn’t the first to accuse Oculus of stealing ideas: Texas-based Zenimax filed suit last May. Interestingly, the Zenimax lawsuit covers the period between Luckey’s alleged work with the Hawaii partnership and the launch of the Kickstarter campaign.
“In April 2012, Carmack began corresponding with Palmer Luckey, a college-aged video game enthusiast living in southern California,” reads the Zenimax filing. “Luckey was working on a primitive virtual reality headset that he called the ‘Rift’ […] 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.”
Zenimax said it saw the ‘Rift’ as something that might work with Doom, a video game developed by its parent company, id Software. So, its employees “literally transformed the Rift by adding physical hardware components and developing specialized software for its operation.”
It would be interesting to compare the prototype Total Recall Development says Luckey built for them and the prototype Zenimax said he showed them.
I couldn’t find an entry for Total Recall Development in the state business registration system, but the pair do have a pretty compelling piece of evidence in a 2013 patent filing. Seidl and Ron, listed as being based in Haiku on Maui, were ultimately granted patent 9,007,430 for a “System and method for creating a navigable, three-dimensional virtual reality environment having ultra-wide field of view.”
There has been virtual reality research and development taking place in Hawaii for some time. In 2009, I visited the Virtual Reality Center, which helped people cope with anxiety with a combination of traditional therapy and virtual environments.
Photo: Orlovsky and Oculus Rift by Sergey Galyonkin/Flickr.