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ZeniMax Files Lawsuit Against Oculus

ZeniMax has filed a lawsuit against Oculus for "intellectual property" that was allegedly stolen by Oculus Chief Technology Officer John Carmack during his time employed with ZeniMax's id Software.

With the release of Wolfenstein and the Elder Scrolls Online “Craglorn” update, ZeniMax and their affiliated companies are hot topics this week.  However, ZeniMax is also making news for another, less exciting reason: on May 21, it filed a lawsuit with the federal court in the U.S. District for the Northern District of Texas against Oculus VR. 

The suit alleges that Oculus Chief Technology Officer John Carmack stole intellectual property pertaining to virtual reality, and that ZeniMax copyrights and trademarks were infringed.  The company is “asserting claims for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, and unfair competition against the defendants.”

Where did this all begin?

Computer programmers have worked on technology that would offer a virtual reality for years, but have run into problems creating a completely immersive experience.  ZeniMax provides an example for virtual realties as “the display of imaginary worlds in goggle-like headsets that provide video and audio, thereby immersing the user entirely in the projected environment.”—This sounds extremely familiar to the Oculus Rift…

Palmer Luckey was a video-game enthusiast and longtime moderator of Meant to be Seen forums, and played around with the idea of creating a head-mounted virtual reality device that was effective and relatively inexpensive for gamers. So he began working on a headset he called “The Rift” in southern California. 

Carmack worked for ZeniMax Media for a few months as the Technical Director for their Texas-based company, id Software. During this time, he helped create the Rift prototype with Luckey and added many improvements to the device. 

Soon after, Carmack left the company to work full-time at Oculus.  He later stated that it was due to their lacking interest in virtual reality devices for their upcoming games. “When it became clear that I wasn’t going to have the opportunity to do any work on (virtual reality games) while at id Software, I decided to not renew my contract.”

ZeniMax’s claim

During this brief time with the company, Carmack allegedly obtained enough information to help the development of the Oculus Rift, thus stealing ZeniMax intellectual property—which is listed as “copyrighted computer codes, trade secret information, and technical know-how”—and using it for his own financial gain of billions of dollars.

“We cannot ignore the unlawful exploitation of intellectual property that we develop and own, nor will we allow misappropriation and infringement to go unaddressed,” ZeniMax Chairman and CEO Robert Altman said.

The company has a binding Non-Disclosure Agreement that states the aforementioned intellectual property is confidential and may not be shared without written approval. 

ZeniMax believes that it has claim to some of the technology and is seeking “...damages that will fairly and fully compensate it for the defendants’ infringement...” because, as a letter from ZeniMax to Oculus lawyers in April said, “...it was only through the concerned efforts of Carmack, using technology developed over many years at, and owned by, ZeniMax, that Luckey was able to transform his garage-based pipe dream into a working reality...”—thus taking almost all the credit for the device.

Zenimax said that they tried to resolve the matter with Oculus, but was not successful.

What does Oculus have to say about this?

After the allegations first surfaced in late April, Carmack responded over Twitter disputing the ownership of the ideas behind the Oculus Rift

An Oculus representative stated that they have offered ZeniMax a “small equity stake in the company” to help reach a resolution, but it was not successful. They also said that this lawsuit is an unfortunate circumstance, but “when there is this type of transaction, people come out of the woodwork with ridiculous and absurd claims.” The “transaction” is the $2 billion acquisition by Facebook that was announced at the end of March. 

With Facebook as an Oculus partner, they certainly have the financial backing and other resources to prepare themselves  for the suit and say that they plan to “...vigorously defend Oculus and its investors to the fullest extent."

We'll have to stay tuned in the coming months to see what comes of the suit.  Hopefully it won't impede the release of the Oculus Rift which is set for later on this year.

The 55-page filed complaint can be read here and ZeniMax's press release about the matter can be read here.

Published May. 21st 2014

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