Palmer Luckey is the 24 year-old founder of Oculus VR and inventor of the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset.
Oculus, which is owned by social media giant Facebook, on Feb. 1, 2017 was ordered to pay $500 million in a trade secrets lawsuit with video game publisher ZeniMax Media, according to Polygon. The verdict was good and bad for Oculus: The Dallas, Texas jury after deliberating for two days found that that Oculus did not misappropriate trade secrets, as ZeniMax claimed, but that Luckey, and by association Oculus, failed to comply with a non-disclosure agreement. ZeniMax had been seeking $4 billion in compensation and punitive damages.
An Oculus spokesperson in a statement said the company plans to appeal and looks forward to eventually getting past this litigation:
The heart of this case was about whether Oculus stole ZeniMax’s trade secrets, and the jury found decisively in our favor. We’re obviously disappointed by a few other aspects of today’s verdict, but we are undeterred. Oculus products are built with Oculus technology. Our commitment to the long-term success of VR remains the same, and the entire team will continue the work they’ve done since day one – developing VR technology that will transform the way people interact and communicate.
Meanwhile, Luckey is no stranger to controversy. Keep reading for more details of the case with ZeniMax, plus everything else you need to know about the VR tycoon.
1. $50 Million of The $500 Million Settlement Will Come Out of Luckey’s Own Pocket
The case with ZeniMax dates back to 2014, when the game maker sued Oculus, claiming the company misappropriated trade secrets developing its Rift headset, according to Polygon. ZeniMax alleged that the Rift is actually based on its own research and code, provided to Luckey by ex employees who now work at Oculus.
The report notes that Oculus will have to pay $200 million for breaking the NDA that Luckey signed, plus $50 million for copyright infringement. Oculus and Luckey himself will each have to pay $50 million for “false designation.” Meanwhile, Oculus Co-Founder Brendan Iribe, who recently stepped down as the company’s CEO, will have to pay $150 million for false designation.
Expect to hear more about this case: As Oculus promised to appeal, ZeniMax said it’s planning further legal action as well. The company told Polygon it may seek an injunction to stop Oculus from selling the Rift.
“Technology is the foundation of our business and we consider the theft of our intellectual property to be a serious matter,” ZeniMax’s Chairman and CEO Robert Altman told the site. “We appreciate the jury’s finding against the defendants, and the award of half a billion dollars in damages for those serious violations.”
2. He Made a Fortune Selling Oculus to Facebook
Fortunately for Luckey, the $50 million he has to pay out should only put a dent in his bank account.
As of February 2017, the VR mogul had a net worth of approximately $730 million, according to Forbes. That puts him at No. 22 on Forbes’ list of America’s Richest Entrepreneurs Under 40 (he ranked No. 26 in 2015).
Just two years after founding OculusVR, Luckey struck gold when social media giant Facebook acquired his company for $2 billion.
“Mobile is the platform of today, and now we’re also getting ready for the platforms of tomorrow,” Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a 2014 statement announcing the acquisition, according to PCMag. “Oculus has the chance to create the most social platform ever, and change the way we work, play and communicate.”
3. He Started Building VR Headsets as a Teen
Born in Long Beach, Calif. on Sept. 19, 1992, Luckey was interested in virtual reality from a young age. He started acquiring old school headsets from the 80s and 90s as a teen, and amassed what he calls the world’s largest private collection of them, according to a 2014 TechCrunch profile. It wasn’t long before he started tinkering and trying to make his own.
In 2012, Luckey dropped out of Cal State Long Beach, where he was pursuing a journalism degree, to start his own VR company. His idea was to build a VR headset of his own, one that was better than any he could find.
Oculus launched a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter in August 2012 with the goal of raising $250,000. The company ended up raising more than $2.4 million.
4. He Helped Fund a Pro-Donald Trump Campaign
In September 2016, revelations surfaced that Luckey had been secretly spending some of his millions funding an unofficial pro-Donald Trump group called Nimble America, which focused on anti-Hillary Clinton memes.
Luckey in response to the rumors on Sept. 23 posted a note on Facebook explaining himself and clarifying that he would not be voting for Trump.
“I contributed $10,000 to Nimble America because I thought the organization had fresh ideas on how to communicate with young voters through the use of several billboards,” he wrote. “I am a libertarian who has publicly supported Ron Paul and Gary Johnson in the past, and I plan on voting for Gary in this election as well.”
He went on to deny reports claiming he was the founder or an employee of Nimble America but apologized for “negatively impacting” people’s opinions of Oculus.
“My actions were my own and do not represent Oculus,” he wrote. “I’m sorry for the impact my actions are having on the community.”
5. His Girlfriend Left Twitter After Being Outed as a Gamergater & Trump Supporter
Shortly after word spread of Luckey’s involvement with Nimble America, Gizmodo did a a story on his girlfriend, Nicole Edelmann. In the article, Gizmodo reporter Bryan Menegus described Edelmann, who he said went by the name Nikki Moxxi online, as “a cosplayer, vocal member of the GamerGate movement, and active Trump supporter.”
Following that article, users flocked to Twitter to harass Edelmann. She ended up deactivating her account.
Some have criticized Gizmodo, the tech arm of now defunct Gawker Media, for bringing Edelmann into Luckey’s Trump scandal and basically harassing her off Twitter.