ZeniMax targeting Oculus VR over Carmack tech

May 2, 2014 // 9:58 a.m.

Tags: #facebook #id-software #intellectual-property #ip #john-carmack #oculus-rift #oculus-vr #palmer-luckey #virtual-reality #zenimax

ZeniMax, owner of gaming legend id Software, is chasing former employee John Carmack over claims that he has taken intellectual property across to his new employer - the Facebook-owned virtual reality specialist Oculus VR.

Carmack is best known as the technical genius behind some of the most iconic games of the last few decades, from the smooth scrolling of id Software's early side-scrollers to the three-dimensional raycasting engine of Wolfenstein 3D and its successors Doom and Quake. Recently, Carmack left id Software - now owned by ZeniMax - to join Oculus VR, the company behind the Kickstarter-funded Oculus Rift virtual reality headset. It proved a sound move when the company raised $75 million in additional funding and went on to be acquired by Facebook for $2 billion.

ZeniMax, however, isn't happy. The New York Times has published extracts of letters sent from ZeniMax to Oculus Rift founder Palmer Luckey claiming that when Carmack joined Oculus VR he took with him virtual reality related intellectual property belonging to ZeniMax. '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 company told the paper. 'ZeniMax said in a statement. “The proprietary technology and know-how Mr. Carmack developed when he was a ZeniMax employee, and used by Oculus, are owned by ZeniMax.'

The company claims that Luckey signed a document in 2012 acknowledging that technology shared by Carmack - at the time still an id Software employee, merely collaborating with Oculus VR - was owned by ZeniMax. It is further claimed that the companies discussed a licensing agreement for the technologies, which would have included a single-digit percentage stake in Oculus Rift for ZeniMax. The offer was rejected as inadequate, the paper claims, although it would have made for a considerable return on investment following the Facebook acquisition - a likely impetus for ZeniMax's ire.

In its letters, ZeniMax claims that it was only through its technology 'that Mr. Luckey was able to transform his garage-based pipe dream into a working reality,' detailing software-based technologies including position sensing systems and automatic image distortion correction without which the quality of Oculus Rift would be considerably lower.

Oculus VR, naturally, claims it has done no wrong. 'It’s unfortunate, but when there’s this type of transaction [the Facebook acquisition], people come out of the woodwork with ridiculous and absurd claims,' the company told the paper. 'We intend to vigorously defend Oculus and its investors to the fullest extent.' Carmack briefly addressed the issue himself on his Twitter account, claiming 'no work I have ever done has been patented. ZeniMax owns the code that I wrote, but they don't own VR.'

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