John Carmack, CTO at Oculus VR
John Carmack, CTO at Oculus VR

It looks as if all the posturing shown by both games publisher Zenimax and virtual reality startup Oculus VR over the last couple of weeks hasn’t resulted in an amicable agreement between the two companies. In a press release issued a couple of days ago, Zenimax media assert that they have now filed suit against Oculus VR for what it claims are the theft of it’s intellectual property.

The press release seems to have been removed from Zenimax’s site, but Google has it cached here for the moment (printed in full below this article). Zenimax’s claims are numerous, but they revolve around Carmack’s work back in 2012 when he enthusiastically championed an early Oculus Rift prototype at E3 that year.

Specifically though, Zenimax claim that Carmack’s not inconsiderable amounts of work to bring the infamous Oculus Rift enabled Doom 3: BFG, complete with early head tracking and pre-warping stereoscopic rendering, the show where it attracted enormous interest by all who tried and subsequently heard about it.

The dispute hinges on claims that Oculus VR violated an NDA signed by id software and Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey, an agreements signed to allow the two parties to collaborate on software to be used alongside the Oculus Rift. The NDA was pulled from recode.net’s story on the dispute quite recently, but interestingly Carmack is not implicated or in fact mentioned in the document. According to recode’s analysis of their copy of the document:

The NDA notes that both parties were under “no commitment” to invest in one another or “enter into any other business arrangements of any nature whatsoever.” ZeniMax said in a statement that it discussed taking equity in Oculus but that talks between the two companies fell through.

Carmack has refuted absolutely any assertion that any code owned by Zenimax was used by him or Oculus. He recently tweeted “Oculus uses zero lines of code that I wrote while under contract to Zenimax.” Oculus VR too have been robust in their own defence recently, revealing that it was a failed equity deal that forced Oculus to go back on promises to their original Kickstarter campaign backers to include a copy of Doom 3: BFG along with their Developer Kit VR Headsets.

One excerpt in particular caught my eye when reading through the filing – namely Zenimax openly alluding to past in house R&D projects to try and frame their claim in a more favourable way:

For years, dating back to the 1990s, ZeniMax and its affiliates had conductedresearch into virtual reality technology and headsets (sometimes called “head mounted displays”or “HMDs”). For example, ZeniMax had developed prototype software for its major video game franchises, including “
The Elder Scrolls
,” designed to optimize the gaming experience in avirtual reality display device. ZeniMax’s subsidiary, id Software, also researched virtual realityand continued its efforts following its acquisition by ZeniMax. Carmack highlighted thoseefforts in public remarks at the E3 Convention in 2012

Oculus VR has responded to news of the filing. An Oculus representative stated succinctly:

“The lawsuit filed by ZeniMax has no merit whatsoever. As we have previously said, ZeniMax did not contribute to any Oculus technology. Oculus will defend these claims vigorously.”

The whole affair is somewhat depressing and brings home that Oculus, post Facebook acquisition, has now been thrown into the world of big business with all the pitfalls that entails. And as I’ve previously written, it pitches one of the worlds most important games publishers against virtual reality’s best hope for revival. Any such dispute and inevitable protracted animosity between the two can only be a bad thing for gamers and virtual reality, at least for the foreseeable future.

We’ll keep a close eye on how this on develops and will keep you up to date.

Zenimax Press Release in Full

ZENIMAX MEDIA INC. AND ID SOFTWARE LLC FILE SUIT AGAINST OCULUS VR, INC. AND ITS FOUNDER, PALMER LUCKEY

May 21, 2014 (Rockville, MD) — ZeniMax Media Inc. and its subsidiary, id Software LLC, filed suit today against Oculus VR, Inc. and its founder, Palmer Luckey, for illegally misappropriating ZeniMax trade secrets relating to virtual reality technology, and infringing ZeniMax copyrights and trademarks. ZeniMax is also asserting claims for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, and unfair competition against the defendants. The suit was filed in federal court in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas.

The suit arises from the defendants’ unlawful exploitation of intellectual property, including trade secrets, copyrighted computer code, and technical know-how relating to virtual reality technology that was developed by ZeniMax after years of research and investment. ZeniMax provided this valuable intellectual property to defendants under a binding Non-Disclosure Agreement that specifies such intellectual property is owned exclusively by ZeniMax and cannot be used, disclosed, or transferred to third parties without ZeniMax’s approval. ZeniMax’s intellectual property has provided the fundamental technology driving the Oculus Rift since its inception. Nevertheless, the defendants refused all requests from ZeniMax for reasonable compensation and continue to use ZeniMax’s intellectual property without authorization.

All efforts by ZeniMax to resolve this matter amicably have been unsuccessful. Oculus has recently issued a public statement remarkably claiming that “ZeniMax has never contributed IP or technology to Oculus.” Meanwhile, Luckey has held himself out to the public as the visionary developer of virtual reality technology, when in fact the key technology Luckey used to establish Oculus was developed by ZeniMax.

“Intellectual property forms the foundation of our business,” said Robert Altman, Chairman & CEO of ZeniMax. “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 and id Software take their intellectual property rights seriously,” said P. Anthony Sammi, a Partner of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP which represents ZeniMax and id in this matter. “We now look to the federal courts and will pursue all appropriate measures available under the law to rectify defendants’ egregious conduct,” he added.

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  • snake0

    Well good luck to Zenimax, if they win it will be the only money they make this decade. No-one’s going to buy their shit games, that’s for sure.

  • Curtrock

    I hope this can be resolved quickly. Whatever the circumstance, I resent Zenimax inserting itself into the exciting VR renaissance, and in light of this, I view them as an opportunistic side-show. If they had spoken up before the FB buyout, I might have at least been open to the possibility that they have some sort of claim to the tech. But timing wise, now they just look like they are taking a kick at the can. Sad.