The Case Claims:
The plaintiffs were the two owners of Total Recall Technologies (TRT), who had contacted the defendant, Palmer Luckey, to build prototype headsets for virtual reality purposes. Later, Luckey founded Oculus – a successful VR company that was sold to Facebook in 2014 for $2 billion. A year later, TRT sued Luckey, claiming the design they provided him was the basis for the headset used by Oculus. Among the issues to be resolved at trial was whether the headset design TRT provided Luckey represented unique intellectual property that was valuable enough to require compensation to the TRT owners.
The Expert Testimony:
Attorneys representing Luckey and co-defendant Facebook hired Keystone’s Advanced Technology Services team (K.ATS) to investigate the technical qualities of the headset and if its design was unique enough to warrant compensation to TRT. Keystone worked with the attorneys of Cooley LLP who represented Luckey to establish a strategy. Keystone analyzed the technical issues and suggested an expert witness to testify on the subject, Dr. Ravin Balakrishnan, a professor of Computer Science at University of Toronto.
An expert in virtual reality, Dr. Balakrishnan performed an exhaustive analysis of the relevant device designs and their intended use, as well as the software written for the Oculus products, SDKs. Dr. Balakrishnan demonstrated that the design in question was well known and common to many other headsets at the time. He also noted clear and substantial differences in the designs, reflective of their differing use cases. The TRT prototypes were optimized for viewing immersive 360 video, while the Oculus was optimized for video games.
The Case Implications & Outcome:
This case demonstrated how important it is to consider the intended use case of a technology, and consequent design tradeoffs. For instance, the VR device intended for movies had a large number of pixels. Keystone and Dr. Balakrishnan were able to show that contemporary consumer graphics hardware would not have been able to render enough pixels to run video games on this device with sufficiently high framerates to prevent motion sickness. Simply comparing the designs on the basis of their technical specifics would have missed a large amount of context and told the court an incomplete story. The case went to trial in October 2021, and a California federal jury cleared Luckey and Facebook of any wrongdoing.
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