Experienced Points

Experienced Points
Is ZeniMax Being a Patentless Troll in Its Claim Against Oculus?

Shamus Young | 6 May 2014 19:00
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Palmer Luckey Michael Abrash John Carmack Oculus social

Note that everyone else working in VR is being open with their findings. Palmer Lucky (who designed the first Oculus prototype) freely shared his design with Carmack. The people at Valve were happy to share all of their findings on refresh rates and lenses. Lots of people have made mods, ports, or demos of VR games so we have lots of working examples to study and can answer all the lingering questions about how to make VR as appealing as possible. How do we present a 2D interface? What's the best way to arrange the lenses to avoid eye strain? How do we handle existing FPS conventions like the gun model, or the HUD, or screen-shaking, or vision distortions that can't be translated directly into VR? People around the world are hammering away at these questions, and they're all sharing their findings because it's good for VR. Now here comes ZeniMax, claiming that they own some ideas in a field they're not interested in and have no plans to pursue.

Our patent system is already horribly broken. Instead of encouraging innovators, it's created this cottage industry of trolls who don't invent anything, but instead grab overly broad and vague patents and then sue actual innovators. It's destructive and allows lawyers to stifle progress and siphon off cash intended for inventors. ZeniMax is taking this idea even further. They're suggesting that they don't even need a patent. They seem to think they own ideas simply because they were paying Carmack when he thought of them. (Editor's Note: Carmack did show off a VR 3D headset of his own at E3 2012 and QuakeCon 2012 attached to an unfinished version of DOOM 3 BFG.)

So why is ZeniMax claiming to own technology they don't want on the basis of patents that don't exist by accusing a programmer who has no reason to steal from them? Well, according 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."

So there it is. This isn't about technology at all. Facebook bought Oculus for two billion dollars, and ZeniMax saw their relationship with Carmack as a way to lay claim to some of it. It's a bit like the way that distant relatives and old grievances suddenly appear whenever someone wins the lottery. They heard about the money and are looking for a way to get a cut.

Three months ago, I said that Greed is Not The Problem at Electronic Arts. But this? This is what greed looks like. ZeniMax isn't trying to make a new product, or find a new market, or protect their share of an existing market, or trying to increase their value by serving their customers. They are doing the exact opposite. They are producing nothing, and attempting to take money away from people who are trying to make a new product.

Shamus Young is the guy behind Twenty Sided, Spoiler Warning, and How I Learned.

Disclosure(s): Oculus Rift hardware and games were provided to The Escapist by Oculus.
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