Hollywood Legal Battle Erupts Over Facial Animation Technology

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A technology used to animate the faces of digital superheroes in “Deadpool” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron” is at the center of a legal battle that may cause some superheadaches in Hollywood.

The spat is over who owns a novel method of electronically capturing the performances of human actors, including every smile and twitch of their facial muscles, and using the data to bring computer-generated characters to life on the screen. The technology, called Mova, won a technicalAcademy Award for a group of developers last year.

This month, Rearden, the technology incubator in San Francisco that developed Mova, countersued a Chinese company that has claimed ownership of the technology. Rearden, founded by the Silicon Valley serial entrepreneur Steve Perlman, is claiming a string of patent and copyright violations.

It has asked a judge to award it financial damages and block the distribution of movies and other entertainment that it claims have been made by infringing on Mova patents and trademarks. Travis W. Thomas, an intellectual-property lawyer at Baker Botts, said it was conceivable that a court could eventually block the distribution of the movies, but added that it was a “long shot” for Rearden.

Rearden’s suit follows one from the Chinese company that has claimed ownership of Mova, Shenzhenshi Haitiecheng Science and Technology Company. Shenzhenshi, which is affiliated with the well-known Hollywood visual effects company Digital Domain, sued Rearden last February as both parties began to tangle over who owned the technology.

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