2. Did Carmack Misappropriate Zenimax IP and Use It at Oculus?
Prior to Carmack meeting Luckey, he and his team of Id Software employees were researching and developing technological innovations associated with virtual reality. After receiving the Rift prototype, Carmack and other Id Software employees modified the Rift to work with Id Software’s popular computer game DOOM 3: BFG Edition (2012). ZeniMax has alleged that Carmack had a continuous, collaborative relationship with Luckey and Oculus.
By the summer of 2012, the meteoric rise of Oculus culminated with a Kickstarter campaign that raised $2.44 million based on a funding goal of just $250,000. Meanwhile, the only written contractual relationship between ZeniMax and Luckey was the NDA. Spurred by the successful Kickstarter fundraiser, ZeniMax and Oculus engaged in contract negotiations through early 2013, but they never could reach a deal.
Meanwhile, ZeniMax and Oculus continued to collaborate with one another despite no written agreement being in place with respect to their financial relationship. ZeniMax and Oculus exchanged offers and counteroffers in an attempt to reach an agreement as to financial assurances and equity (among other things), but they moved further apart rather than closer together. The relationship between ZeniMax and Oculus began to sour by early 2013. Carmack’s employment contract with Id Software ended in June 2013. Two months later, he joined Oculus as its Chief Technology Officer.
During the trial, Carmack admitted that on his last day at Id Software, he copied thousands of work emails (which included ZeniMax-owned computer code) to a portable drive, but he contends he did not use ZeniMax’s proprietary code in his work at Oculus.╫ To support the theory that Carmack copied and used Id Software code for the Rift once at Oculus, ZeniMax called computer science professor David Dobkin to testify. Dobkin compared and analyzed large sections of ZeniMax and Oculus code and concluded there was evidence of copying, including aberration correction, time warping and drift correction.╫ To also show Carmack’s influence on Oculus, ZeniMax referenced various emails between Oculus and Carmack to establish that Carmack’s IP contributions were essential and embraced by Oculus as instrumental to its success.╫
The defense told a different story. Oculus sought to debunk the credibility and findings of Dobkin, undercutting his expertise and seeking a distinction between literal and non-literal copying, among other things. Oculus’ strategy also focused on downplaying Carmack’s actual IP input once at Oculus, contending Carmack acted mainly in an advisory role at Oculus, and producing emails where Carmack himself said computer code developed by Oculus engineers was superior to his efforts while at Id Software.╫
A pivotal point in the case could be how the jury interprets the circumstances that led to Carmack’s defection to Oculus—was there motive or reason for Carmack to misappropriate Id Software IP? Jurors were introduced to a January 2013 email from Carmack to ZeniMax leadership, urging the company to lead the VR wave, but leadership was dismissive of VR and told Carmack to focus on DOOM 4 (2016).╫ Since Carmack’s employment would not expire until June 2013, jurors could conclude evidence supports Carmack sought to make up for lost time riding the VR wave by integrating allegedly misappropriated Id Software code once employed by Oculus.