A little over a month ago, Facebook announced they were buying the maker of the Oculus Rift headset for upwards of $2 billion. Now suddenly another company claims it's their technology that make the virtual reality device worth buying. ZeniMax Media has sent multiple letters to Oculus and Facebook, claiming employee John Carmack "improperly took ZeniMax's intellectual property with him to Oculus." Carmack was a former id Software (owned by ZeniMax) employee. ZeniMax claims the information Carmack took is what helped Oculus become so successful.
However, ZeniMax did not start sending letters until the knowledge that Facebook was acquiring Oculus went public, which is raising eyebrows. An Oculus representative told The Wall Street Journal, "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."
When Carmack went from ZeniMax to Oculus last summer, five other ZeniMax employees followed. ZeniMax wrote this in a letter to the Oculus lawyers and Facebook's general counsel: "It was only through the concerted efforts of Mr. Carmack, using technology developed over many years at, and owned by, ZeniMax, that Mr. Luckey [founder of Oculus] was able to transform his garage-based pipe dream into a working reality."
Oculus issued this statement saying, "We are disappointed but not surprised by ZeniMax’s actions and we will prove that all of its claims are false." They also issued a list of "key points" in regards to ZeniMax's case:
- "There is not a line of Zenimax code or any of its technology in any Oculus products.
- John Carmack did not take any intellectual property from ZeniMax.
- ZeniMax has misstated the purposes and language of the ZeniMax non-disclosure agreement that Palmer Luckey signed.
- A key reason that John permanently left ZeniMax in August of 2013 was that ZeniMax prevented John from working on VR, and stopped investing in VR games across the company.
- ZeniMax canceled VR support for Doom 3 BFG when Oculus refused ZeniMax’s demands for a non-dilutable equity stake in Oculus.
- ZeniMax did not pursue claims against Oculus for IP or technology, ZeniMax has never contributed any IP or technology to Oculus, and only after the Facebook deal was announced has ZeniMax now made these claims through its lawyers.
- Despite the fact that the full source code for the Oculus SDK is available online (developer.oculusvr.com), ZeniMax has never identified any ‘stolen’ code or technology."
Carmack took to Twitter to express his sentiments:
Oculus uses zero lines of code that I wrote while under contract to Zenimax.— John Carmack (@ID_AA_Carmack) May 1, 2014
ZeniMax has not issued a statement in response to Oculus yet. The most damaging point to the ZeniMax case is Oculus' request for them to identify the line of allegedly stolen code. If ZeniMax is unable to do this, no amount of scary legal letters will damage the Oculus/Facebook deal, or get ZeniMax the compensation they are seeking.