Posted on May 1, 2014, Phil Hornshaw Zenimax Accuses Carmack of Stealing Tech For Oculus VR
Bethesda and id Software parent company Zenimax Media is accusing id co-founder John Carmack of taking technology that belonged to Zenimax when he left the company to become chief technology officer at Oculus VR.
According to a report from The Wall Street Journal, Zenimax lawyers have sent two letters to Oculus stating that Carmack “improperly” took intellectual property with him when he left the company. The gist of it is this: Carmack worked at id when he was developing VR tech for Oculus, and since he was an employee, Zenimax is laying claim to the work he did there.
Zenimax says it was Carmack’s tech, developed while he was a Zenimax employee, that was the turning point for Oculus, taking it from a garage tech startup to a company that would attract the attention of social networking titan Facebook. In March, Mark Zuckerberg’s company inked a deal to acquire Oculus to the tune of $2 billion in cash and stock, but that deal hasn’t been closed yet.
In a statement sent to GameFront and Engadget, Zenimax lawyers said the letters were meant to inform Oculus of the former’s “legal rights:”
“ZeniMax confirms it recently sent formal notice of its legal rights to Oculus concerning its ownership of key technology used by Oculus to develop and market the Oculus Rift. ZeniMax’s technology may not be licensed, transferred or sold without ZeniMax Media’s approval. ZeniMax’s intellectual property rights arise by reason of extensive VR research and development works done over a number of years by John Carmack while a ZeniMax employee, and others. ZeniMax provided necessary VR technology and other valuable assistance to Palmer Luckey and other Oculus employees in 2012 and 2013 to make the Oculus Rift a viable VR product, superior to other VR market offerings.
“The proprietary technology and know-how Mr. Carmack developed when he was a ZeniMax employee, and used by Oculus, are owned by ZeniMax. Well before the Facebook transaction was announced, Mr. Luckey acknowledged in writing ZeniMax’s legal ownership of this intellectual property. It was further agreed that Mr. Luckey would not disclose this technology to third persons without approval. Oculus has used and exploited ZeniMax’s technology and intellectual property without authorization, compensation or credit to ZeniMax. ZeniMax and Oculus previously attempted to reach an agreement whereby ZeniMax would be compensated for its intellectual property through equity ownership in Oculus but were unable to reach a satisfactory resolution. ZeniMax believes it is necessary to address these matters now and will take the necessary action to protect its interests.”
Meanwhile, Oculus released its own statement to WSJ, claiming it plans to defend itself, presumably in court.
“It’s unfortunate, but when there’s this type of transaction, people come out of the woodwork with ridiculous and absurd claims,” the statement said. “We intend to vigorously defend Oculus and its investors to the fullest extent.”
What’s not clear is whether Facebook was aware of Zenimax’s claims on any Oculus tech before it made its deal with Oculus, or how this development might affect that transaction. If Zenimax’s claims on Oculus tech bear out, it’ll likely mean Facebook and Oculus will owe licensing fees to Zenimax on each Oculus headset the companies sell. Right now, that’s a pretty low number, since Oculus still hasn’t even created a retail model yet.
GameFront has reached out to Oculus and Zenimax for further comment, and we’ll update this story as more information comes in.