The Curious Case of Mova Technology - Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal
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The Curious Case of Mova Technology

The Curious Case of Mova Technology

How does Benjamin Button age backwards? No, there is not a child out there in the world who looks like an 80-year-old-baby with an ever-so-subtle trace of Brad Pitt’s lovely countenance. It is certainly common knowledge that Brad Pitt, himself, played the character of Benjamin Button in all stages of the character’s reverse aging in the 2008 film, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” In fact, Pitt’s mannerisms and facial expressions were transposed onto a computer-generated face that aged as the role required, and, of course, closely resembled the actor’s iconic face.1

The blending of Pitt’s facial performance in the film with the computer-generated face used for scenes when Pitt’s character, Benjamin Button, was older or younger than Pitt was done through a technology called MOVA Contour.2 One way that the technology works, and the way it was used in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” is by employing a several cameras, strategically applied phosphorescent makeup, and specialized computer software to capture the actor’s facial expressions and use them to animate the computer-generated face that appears in the film.3 This technology has been used in several recent movies, most notably the latest comic book smash hit, “Deadpool,” and has won its technicians an Academy Award.4 The technology can also be used for computer graphics and video games.5 As its star rises, two companies that claim to own Mova technology have taken their battle to court.6

Shenzhenshi Haitiecheng Science and Technology Co., LTD (“SHST”), a Chinese company, sued Rearden LLC, and its affiliates, Rearden Mova LLC, MO2 LLC, and Mova LLC on February 20, 2015. The complaint alleges that SHST owns the Mova technology and the accompanying intellectual property rights to the technology; and asks for a declaratory judgment to that effect, as well as actual and punitive damages, and for an injunction to prevent Defendants from asserting that they own Mova and its assets, which has interfered with SHST’s licensing of the technology.7 SHST claims that they rightfully purchased the Mova technology from an entity they call “Original MO2 LLC” (which SHST claims is different from Defendant MO2 LLC), which was created by a former employee of Rearden, Greg LaSalle.8 SHST has licensed Mova technology out to a United States-based company premised on what SHST believes is a legal acquisition of the technology.9

Defendants counterclaimed, alleging that, in fact, LaSalle was instructed by Rearden to acquire the Mova assets for Rearden, but LaSalle went rogue. He purchased them for his personal benefit through MO2 LLC, and later sold them to SHST. Thus, the SHST acquisition was invalid because Rearden, not LaSalle, owned the technology, and LaSalle did not have the ability to sell it to SHST.10 The Rearden Defendants request, in turn, a dismissal of SHST’s complaint; a declaratory judgment that they, not SHST, own Mova and the intellectual property rights to the technology; and that SHST turn over any physical property and other Mova-related assets it has to Rearden’s subsidiary, Rearden Mova LLC.11

The victor is still unclear. In October 2015, the court denied Rearden’s motion for summary judgment. The court declared that there is an issue of material fact as to whether LaSalle or Rearden owned the Mova technology assets when they were sold to SHST.12 Rearden claims that although LaSalle had Rearden owner Stephen Perlmen’s blessing and assistance in acquiring the Mova assets, the assets were Rearden’s property, not LaSalle’s, under a Proprietary Information and Inventions Agreement (“PIIA”) that LaSalle signed when he began working at Rearden.13 The agreement stated that LaSalle assigned all “proprietary information” that he gained during his employment to Rearden.14 However, SHST presented evidence that implies that Perlman released LaSalle from the PIIA when he urged LaSalle to buy the Mova assets, knowing that they were for LaSalle’s personal benefit.15

Unfortunately for the Rearden Defendants, the war is not over. The fight will continue to rage on in court, as these two companies duke it out for the rights to the technology that transforms Hollywood’s most famous faces.

 

Image: [Top Right] Steve Perlman of Rearden Technology with the Mova Countour reality capture system; [Bottom Right] Mova Contour phases demonstration. / Venture Beat


  1. See Answer With Counterclaims at 10, Shenzhenshi Haitiecheng Sci. and Tech. Co., LTD v. Rearden LLC, et al., No. 3:15-cv-00797 (filed Feb. 20, 2015).

  2. Id.

  3. Id.

  4. Id.; Complaint at 5, Shenzhenshi Haitiecheng Sci. and Tech. Co., LTD v. Rearden LLC, et al., No. 3:15-cv-00797 (filed Feb. 20, 2015); Mercedes Milligan, Mova Legal Tech Battle Heats Up, Animation Magazine (Feb. 24, 2016), http://www.animationmagazine.net/tech-reviews/mova-tech-legal-battle-heats-up/ [https://perma.cc/M6G9-PZHP].

  5. Answer with Counterclaims at 2, Shenzhenshi Haitiecheng Sci. and Tech. Co., LTD v. Rearden LLC, et al., No. 3:15-cv-00797 (filed Feb. 20, 2015); Order Denying Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment at 1, Shenzhenshi Haitiecheng Sci. and Tech. Co., LTD v. Rearden LLC, et al., No. 3:15-cv-00797 (filed Feb. 20, 2015).

  6. See Complaint at 2, Shenzhenshi Haitiecheng Sci. and Tech. Co., LTD v. Rearden LLC, et al., No. 3:15-cv-00797 (filed Feb. 20, 2015), Answer with Counterclaims at 2, Shenzhenshi Haitiecheng Sci. and Tech. Co., LTD v. Rearden LLC, et al., No. 3:15-cv-00797 (filed Feb. 20, 2015).

  7. See Complaint at 6-9, Shenzhenshi Haitiecheng Sci. and Tech. Co., LTD v. Rearden LLC, et al., No. 3:15-cv-00797 (filed Feb. 20, 2015); Answer with Counterclaims at 9, Shenzhenshi Haitiecheng Sci. and Tech. Co., LTD v. Rearden LLC, et al., No. 3:15-cv-00797 (filed Feb. 20, 2015).

  8. Complaint at 7, Shenzhenshi Haitiecheng Sci. and Tech. Co., LTD v. Rearden LLC, et al., No. 3:15-cv-00797 (filed Feb. 20, 2015).

  9. Id.

  10. Answer with Counterclaims at 9, Shenzhenshi Haitiecheng Sci. and Tech. Co., LTD v. Rearden LLC, et al., No. 3:15-cv-00797 (filed Feb. 20, 2015); see Order Denying Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment at 6-7, Shenzhenshi Haitiecheng Sci. and Tech. Co., LTD v. Rearden LLC, et al., No. 3:15-cv-00797 (filed Feb. 20, 2015).

  11. Answer with Counterclaims at 9, Shenzhenshi Haitiecheng Sci. and Tech. Co., LTD v. Rearden LLC, et al., No. 3:15-cv-00797 (filed Feb. 20, 2015).

  12. Order Denying Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment at 6-8, Shenzhenshi Haitiecheng Sci. and Tech. Co., LTD v. Rearden LLC, et al., No. 3:15-cv-00797 (filed Feb. 20, 2015).

  13. See id at 2, 7.

  14. Id. at 2.

  15. Id. 7.

Megan Dran

Megan Dran is a second year student at Fordham University School of Law and a staff member of the Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal.