The saga of augmented reality startup Meta appeared to be at end, but there are new developments unfolding in real time that may either sink Meta deeper into trouble, or provide a tenuous lifeline for the beleaguered augmented reality company.
On Thursday, the judge overseeing the patent infringement case between Genedics, LLC and Meta issued a new ruling, and it comes with potentially major consequences.
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As we reported on Wednesday, Meta's massive legal team withdrew from the case in November. The judge then ordered Meta to find new counsel in order to continue the case. An update on the status of Meta's legal representation was expected in the first days of January.
But instead of the installation of a new legal team on behalf of Meta, Genedics shared a memo with the court in which Meta's chief financial officer, John Sines, claimed that Meta simply did not have the resources to retain legal counsel, or provide a settlement offer to Genedics.
Now the judge in the case, Judge Christopher J. Burke, has given Meta until January 24 to provide the court with legal representation on its behalf or have a default judgment entered against the company. Translation: If Meta doesn't come up with a new legal team by the judge's date, they could automatically lose the case brought by Genedics.
And because the court's new filing states that, "a corporate entity cannot participate in this litigation without counsel," it appears that Meta's financial troubles won't be enough to somehow stop the legal process from moving forward.
Meanwhile, Meta's founder has been telling some that the company isn't done just yet.
After traveling to Singapore in recent weeks, for undisclosed reasons, and then returning to attend CES, Meta founder and CEO Meron Gribetz seemed in good spirits as he was photographed trying on the new Nreal Light headset.
According to a spokesperson communicating on behalf of Meta, Gribetz is working on raising new funds to bring Meta back from the brink. And if successful, Meta may have an announcement of some kind as soon as next week.
Nevertheless, it's unclear how new funds would repair Meta's situation given that its CFO has gone on record to state that, "Meta Company's lender exercised its remedies as first priority secured lender and foreclosed and sold all assets to a third party in a UCC foreclosure sale at a value below the outstanding loan amount, and Meta Company is insolvent."
Following our initial reporting, at least one clue seemed to arise that might give Meta a way out of its predicament. Longtime VR reporter Ian Hamilton recently took to Twitter to note that he spotted a Shopify page listing the Meta 2 for sale. The site displays Meta's branding, support contact information, Meta's terms of service page, and links to Meta's official YouTube page. However, the store's address is "meta-eu.myshopify.com," which would seem to indicate a European operation.
We then dug around a bit more and also found "meta-canada.myshopify.com," which also offers the AR device for sale, presumably from a Canadian arm of the company. But when Next Reality contacted Meta's spokesperson, the representative confirmed that the "Meta EU" Shopify store is not related to Meta.
The timing of the appearance of the stores is also odd. A search for previous versions of the sites on Archive.org reveals that the Canadian version showed up on Sept. 29, 2018, right after Meta's furlough event on Sept. 10, and the EU version of the store showed up on Jan. 10, one day after Next Reality published its previous Meta story on Jan. 9.
We then called and emailed a number of contacts at Shopify to ask why the supposedly unauthorized stores were being allowed to accept credit card purchases for the device (a fact we confirmed by going through the process, except for final payment). None of Shopify's legal, media, support, or top level staff have replied to our direct requests for information.
Is someone running an unauthorized operation to sell Meta 2 devices on Shopify? Or, is something else afoot? Until Shopify, or another party, provides more answers, we can't be sure.
As for the fate of Meta, it's clear that Gribetz believes the company's story isn't over. But whether next week delivers new information or not, the patent court judge has guaranteed that we'll know more by the end of this month.