The still-unfolding story of China's Nreal augmented reality startup continues to develop, with each turn uncovering another unexpected wrinkle.
Now, in a new filing with the courts in its legal battle with Magic Leap, the company has revealed a sudden name change, as well as the involvement of a previously unknown parent company.
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Currently, Nreal, initially operating under the corporate name Hangzhou Tairuo, is defending itself against a lawsuit from Florida-based augmented reality startup Magic Leap. Magic Leap claims that Nreal co-founder Chi Xu used trade secrets acquired while working at the company back in 2015 to help launch the Nreal device as an augmented reality competitor.
The two companies have been communicating behind the scenes to resolve the case before their scheduled court meeting in June, with what appears to be limited effectiveness. However, a new filing entered by the Nreal team roughly 11 days ago has revealed that a previously unknown company called Beijing Unicorn Technology Co., Ltd. is the parent of Hangzhou Tairuo, the company producing the Nreal Light.
But that's not the only surprise. It turns out that the Nreal team has also changed the name of its company from Hangzhou Tairuo to Shenzhen Tairuo. The first mention we can find (in English) of this name change to Shenzhen Tairuo is in the legal statement given by founder Xu in December, however, Magic Leap filed its case against Hangzhou Tairuo and has since been corrected on the naming issue by Nreal's legal team.
So, just to be clear, Beijing Unicorn Technology is the parent company of Shenzhen Tairuo, which is the producer of the Nreal Light. But, as of this writing, for some reason, the company name on Nreal's website is still listed as "Hangzhou Tairuo."
It's unclear whether Beijing Unicorn Technology was the Nreal parent company all along, or if this is a new/recent business relationship.
Similarly, it has been challenging to uncover much information about China-based Beijing Unicorn Technology and its prior interests. Although the company is listed on a wearable augmented reality device patent document filed in December, which lists Nreal's Chi Xu as one of the inventors.
How this new information might impact the legal process with Magic Leap is unknown at this point. Still, it does raise questions as to why there was a previously unknown layer between the Nreal brand and its newly revealed parent company Beijing Unicorn Technology, and why the company decided to suddenly reveal its name change (in English) in the middle of a major legal fight while the official website reflects the old name.
In the meantime, the company has announced that it has halted production of its developer kit due to "the current situation in Asia" (likely referring to widespread manufacturing issues related to the coronavirus outbreak).
The company has been continuing to market the Nreal brand to keep public interest up. They announced a hand tracking partnership last week, and this week promised (via a concept drawing on Instagram) a wireless, all-in-one device for release later this year. However, with developer kit production halted, and the release date of the commercial version of the Nreal Light now uncertain, promising yet another (at this point, concept) device may be premature.
The company is scheduled to meet Magic Leap in court this summer to meet Judge Lucy Koh, the same judge who presided over the Samsung vs. Apple case that gripped Silicon Valley years ago.