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Oculus Rift is being sued for allegedly stealing VR headset technology

Classic he-said, she-said... as applied to virtual reality technology companies. 


Imad Khan


Posted on May 23, 2014   Updated on May 31, 2021, 6:29 am CDT

It’s high school all over again, in which the tenured football player and the new popular kid are fighting over the same girl. Except in this case the girl is a 43 year old video game programmer and the two fighting it out are ZeniMax Media and Facebook’s newly acquired Oculus Rift.

ZeniMax has just recently announced that it will sue Oculus Rift and its founder Palmer Luckey for stealing technologies that directly allowed for the development of the virtual reality headset.

John Carmack, the mind behind Doom, Wolfenstein, and a plethora of other games, has always had an interest in virtual reality. When Palmer Luckey came onto the scene with the Oculus Rift, Carmack was clearly interested.

Oculus is to be the virtual reality headset that would not only do VR right, but do it affordably.

Carmack used to work for Id Software, which was bought by ZeniMax Media in June of 2009. Carmack had been with the company since its start in 1991, but left in November of 2013 to join Oculus. Before joining Oculus, Carmack was heavily involved with the Oculus Rift, and demoed the device during E3 2012. In August of 2013 Carmack became CTO to the company, to help guide and steer them in the right direction with his expertise.

Here’s Carmack showing off the Oculus Rift during E3 2012, showing how he modded a version of Doom 3 BFG Edition for the Oculus. Clearly this was made while he was working under ZeniMax.

The argument right now lies between whether Carmack was working on Oculus code while on the clock for ZeniMax. If so, ZeniMax is making a claim that one of their employees had been helping develop Oculus, and in turn, has had a hand in its development. Carmack is firm in his belief that nothing was stolen, and all the work he did on Oculus was independent of his work at Id while under ZeniMax.

Although it’s a little presumptuous, many are wondering if the two-billion dollar buyout of Oculus by Facebook had a part in prompting ZeniMax to pursue the suit more vigorously. It’s unknown how long ZeniMax has been making claims to partial ownership.

In a lengthy statement to Engadget earlier this month, ZeniMax claimed that:

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.

So it seems that this has been in the works for a while, at least according to ZeniMax. Luckey and Carmack are acting as if this aggression were inspired post-Facebook buyout.

Oculus uses zero lines of code that I wrote while under contract to Zenimax.

— John Carmack (@ID_AA_Carmack) May 1, 2014

Interestingly, Carmack had made it public that he would be CTO to the company months before the Facebook buyout. When Carmack became CTO back in August of 2013, many outlets reached out to ZeniMax for comment on the situation, no comments were ever given. Why wasn’t ZeniMax more open about their protest of Carmack joining right from the beginning?

Well, it seems that ZeniMax, in its lawsuit is much more open on some of its actions early in the life of the Oculus Rift. When the Oculus Rift was being Kickstarted, and was heavily promoted by Carmack, ZeniMax did try to reach out to Luckey to create a partnership. Zenimax claimed that Luckey evaded talks while Luckey claims that ZeniMax’s demands were too egregious. From there, cooperation between the two parties dissolved. ZeniMax, in emails sent to Carmack, did tell him to halt his correspondence with Oculus until some kind of business partnership could be established.

In a press release from ZeniMax, CEO Robert Altman claimed that “Intellectual property forms the foundation of our business,” and “we cannot ignore the unlawful exploitation of intellectual property that we develop and own, nor will we allow misappropriation and infringement to go unaddressed.”

The lawsuit also alleges that, with the help of Carmack, Oculus hired many former ZeniMax employees that knew confidential information that helped in the development of the Oculus Rift.

Oculus, however, is not having it. In a response to Kotaku, they claimed that “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.”

H/T The Wire | Image via BagoGames/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)


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*First Published: May 23, 2014, 2:28 pm CDT