What's It Like to Be General Counsel of a Virtual Reality Company?

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on October 07, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Since the 1960s, people have imagined a future full of virtual reality; headsets that could transport you to fin de siecle Paris, holodecks that could recreate the African savanna. But for so long, nothing happened. It seemed like virtual reality would go the way of hoverboards and flying cars; an exciting idea that would just never happen.

No more. Virtual reality is back and booming, with virtual reality games, virtual reality news apps, and millions of dollars invested in VR startups. So, what's it like to be an in-house attorney on the cutting edge of virtual reality technology?

Virtual Reality Is a Lot Like Real Reality

If you were expecting the legal team at a virtual reality company to draft contracts while riding unicorns through the rings of Saturn, well, you've got one thing right -- the contract drafting.

Turns out, legal work at a VR firm isn't all that different from legal work in any other corporate settling. The Recorder's David Ruiz recently interviewed VR GCs, including the general counsel and CFO at Leap Motion, Tom Kaweski, and determined that in-house lawyers at VR shops have jobs that are "pretty down to earth."

Leap Motion, for example, develops the hand-motion tracking tool that helps sync your gestures with your virtual reality universe, making sure everything goes well when you're battling orcs, scaling buildings, or recreating the last moments of the Titanic. But Kaweski's work is pretty typical. "The day-to-day things are licensing, development agreements, overseeing patent counsel and handling employment matters," he told Ruiz.

It's Not All Normal

You shouldn't think that virtual reality law is mundane, however. As a developing industry, VR is breaking new legal ground, often at the intersection of many different practice areas. Kaweski describes virtual reality as a part entertainment device and part content service. "In theory, it's a mixture of the legal issues around TV and delivering video content, and the legal issues around mobile and delivering app content," he says.

Ruth Anne Keene, the GC at Unity Technologies had a slightly different take. Unity Technologies is the company behind the Unity engine, which has been used to create hundreds of video and console games -- including for virtual reality platforms. Keene sees her practice more as "a combination of commercial and IP law."

But, because virtual reality is novel, legal issues often require in-house attorneys to apply long-standing rules in new and unexpected ways. "There's a reason why we still learn 1800s tort law," Keene says. Sadly, not in a VR recreation of Blackstone's chambers. At least not yet.

Related Resources:

Copied to clipboard