Maryland technology company alleges intellectual property theft

A Maryland-based video game company is alleging that the designer of a virtual reality headset infringed on its trade secrets when making the device.

In March 2014, FaceBook announced that it planned on purchasing Oculus VR, the company that designed the Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset that delivers one of the most advanced virtual reality experiences currently available. In May 2014, Maryland-based ZeniMax Media accused the founder of Oculus VR of stealing its intellectual property to make the Rift headset, possibly delaying FaceBook's acquisition of the company.

Dispute over rights to computer code

ZeniMax Media is well-known in video game manufacturing circles, with several successful games to its credit, including Doom and Elder Scrolls. The founder of Oculus VR used to work for an umbrella company under ZeniMax Media, but left to start his own company. ZeniMax alleged that Oculus VR's founder used virtual reality technology to build the Rift helmet that he and other ZeniMax employees had developed while he was a ZeniMax employee over several years. As such, ZeniMax believes that the technology used in the Rift headset belongs to ZeniMax, and Oculus VR infringed on ZeniMax's intellectual property rights.

Trade secret law in Maryland

Trade secrets in Maryland are protected under Maryland's Uniform Trade Secrets Act. The MUTSA notes that a trade secret is information that has economic value that comes from not being readily known and that a person or entity took reasonable steps to keep the information secret. Information is more likely to meet the definition of a trade secret if a business can show that:

  • The information is valuable
  • It is not easy to obtain the information outside the business
  • The business has protocols for keeping information secret
  • Only employees in the business know the information

The MUTSA prohibits misappropriation of trade secrets. Misappropriation includes both obtaining trade secrets by those who knew or should have known that the information was acquired improperly and disclosing trade secrets without the intellectual property owner's consent.

Recovering for trade secret violations

Those who have been victims of trade secret violations may seek injunctions from the court to stop the violations. Additionally, a business can seek damages stemming from the violation equal to either the business' losses from the violation or the money that the violator earned because of the violation. In cases where there was malicious action, the court may choose to award punitive damages up to twice the amount of the damages award. The court may also award attorneys' fees in such cases.

It is important for businesses to protect their intellectual property, as the dispute between ZeniMax Media and Oculus VR demonstrates. When businesses have intellectual property disputes, it is crucial that they have the assistance of an attorney with extensive experience handling intellectual property matters to protect their interests. If you have questions about how to protect your intellectual property, talk to a skilled intellectual property attorney who can advise you how to proceed.

Keywords: intellectual property; trade secrets; misappropriation of trade secrets