ZeniMax claims Oculus uses its IP

UPDATE: John Carmack reveals lines of ZeniMax code used in Oculus: "Zero"

UPDATE: John Carmack responded to the allegations brought by his former employer on Twitter yesterday. In two tweets, the esteemed programmer rubbished ZeniMax's claims of ownership.

ORIGINAL STORY: ZeniMax Media is laying claim to a portion of the technology behind the Oculus Rift VR headset. The Wall Street Journal reports that the id Software parent company believes it has a right to compensation from Oculus as a result of id co-founder John Carmack's work on the Rift. Carmack provided assistance to Oculus founder Palmer Luckey in early 2012, helping him create an early prototype to show off the Rift technology.

According to a letter ZeniMax sent to Oculus and Facebook lawyers last month, "It was only through the concerted efforts of Mr. Carmack, using technology developed over many years at, and owned by, ZeniMax, that Mr. Luckey was able to transform his garage-based pipe dream into a working reality."

An Oculus representative told the paper, "It's unfortunate, but when there's this type of transaction, people come out of the woodwork with ridiculous and absurd claims. We intend to vigorously defend Oculus and its investors to the fullest extent."

The transaction referred to in the Oculus statement is the pending $2 billion Facebook acquisition of Oculus, originally announced in March. A person familiar with the discussions told the paper that Oculus had previously offered ZeniMax a small equity stake in the company to resolve the matter, but a deal could not be reached.

"ZeniMax believes it is necessary to address these matters now and will take the necessary action to protect its interests," a representative told the paper.

Carmack joined Oculus at its chief technology officer last August, while retaining his "technical leadership" at id Software. After several months trying to balance his duties, Carmack resigned from id entirely in November, saying he left because he wouldn't have the opportunity to work on VR at id.

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Latest comments (12)

Spencer Franklin Concept Artist 5 years ago we go
***Bucket o' popcorn in hand***
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 5 years ago
"It was only through the concerted efforts of Mr. Carmack, using technology developed over many years at, and owned by, ZeniMax, that Mr. Luckey was able to transform his garage-based pipe dream into a working reality."
Well, the easy way around this is to use the tech Valve gave Oculus. It was apparently leaps and bounds over Crystal Cove quality anyways.
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Spencer Franklin Concept Artist 5 years ago
Curious though... Can you claim ownership on iteration of an already owned property? Wouldn't this be akin to claiming ownership of Unreal Engine after you made some modifications to it? and from what i recall, the Rift was shown at many different companies booths, so not sure what that proves. This all seems like a money grab (how else to recoup the cost of that awful ESO). And they talk as though Carmack was researching VR specifically on their behalf, which I don't think is the case...never seen any mention of ZeniMax doing any work in VR, just the fact that Carmack was in their employee during the time he initially worked on this (but not on their time I would assume). Any legal heads around...?

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Spencer Franklin on 1st May 2014 7:14pm

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Show all comments (12)
Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 5 years ago
For the type of core audience customer Zenimax is targeting, their corporate message is not where it should be right now. Between design & business decisions in Elder Scrols Online and this, the image they are giving off is not the best.
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James Boulton Owner, Retro HQ Ltd5 years ago
What a load of balls. Developing hardware and firmware has absolutely no correlation to developing games technology. He's been working on a monitor which straps to your head, not a game engine. If his work was primarily in developing a 3D engine for use with Oculus VR, then fine, I can see their point. But, this? Really? Come on.
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Tom Keresztes Programmer 5 years ago
Carmack's Reverse has been patented. But not by him.
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Matthew Bennett 3D Engine developer, Sitedesk5 years ago
I can see absolutely no good ending for anyone in this if it goes to court.
Ether Zenimax will lose and everyone's time and money gets wasted in the courts,
Or Zenimax win at great cost to their reputation and to Occulus which could potentially put the project in danger.

Call me cynical but I hope this gets settled quietly and quickly before it comes to the courts.
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James Boulton Owner, Retro HQ Ltd5 years ago
Oh I'm sure the whole point of this matter is that it gets settled out of court and Zenimax get some cash. There's a big pot of money, and the scavengers are out on a mission.

On the basis Zenimax don't have a leg to stand on, I hope it goes to court and they get a large legal bill.

This stuff annoys me no end.
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Steve Peterson Marketing Consultant 5 years ago
The only sure winners are the lawyers. This will likely end up before a judge, who will likely push the sides to settle along the lines of the emerging legal case. This can take a long time even when the issues are pretty clear, depending on how stubborn the parties are. See Activision v. Infinity Ward for an example of how long it can take.
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Peter Dwyer Games Designer/Developer 5 years ago
Oculus are not really at fault for using technology they though was freely given. Carmack however, is another matter. If you are working for a company and then actively using company time and resources to help a second company, then that's simply unethical. To then leave the first company for the second AFTER making the second a success is pretty much going to be seen in a dim light by anyone looking in from the outside (those without rose tinted glasses). It then sounds like Zeni had a legal agreement with Oculus about the use of the tech and sought to get some ownership in return. If that is true, then it doesn't matter whether Oculus currently uses Zeni code if they DID use it initially to grow the company to what it is now.

Using the popular car analogy format it would be like a friend lending you their car and fronting you petrol money to get to Vegas. You then win 1 million and not only do you not give said friend the petrol money you owe but, you then pull the old "Never met the guy" routine!
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Steve Wetz Reviewer/Assistant Editor, Gamer's Glance5 years ago

I think we can refine that analogy a bit. What if you loaned someone a car, and he won a car race with it? Presumably, your resources (the car itself) were involved in the winning.

This is not me agreeing with Zenimax's claim, which are not only suspiciously timed but also hard to prove in court - when is a person's time the company's vice not? - but the difference is not nearly as distinct as you are making it out to be. John Carmack is a programmer. The Oculus Rift requires programming. Not exactly a car loan to Vegas.

This will primarily come down to Carmack's contract with Zenimax. Is code written by Carmack inherently the IP of Zenimax? Is that determination based on his working hours, whether he took a consulting fee, etc? This will probably get very technical very quickly, but of one thing I am certain - John Carmack almost certainly contributed to the initial Rift SDK while in the employ of Zenimax.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Steve Wetz on 6th May 2014 4:25pm

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Julian Williams Founder, WIZDISH Ltd.5 years ago
When you are not involved and don't know all the facts its easy to imagine how both sides might genuinely believe they are in the right. It seems very unlikely John would need to copy any code but Zenimax may have thought that they had paid for the time he spent researching. I just hope they can resolve this amicably before unwarranted damage is done to either side.
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