John Carmack Accused of Stealing ZeniMax Technology For Oculus

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John Carmack Accused of Stealing ZeniMax Technology For Oculus

John Carmack

ZeniMax Media claims that John Carmack took its proprietary technology with him when he left the company to join Oculus VR.

John Carmack's breakup with ZeniMax Media, the company that bought id Software back in 2009, never seemed particularly friendly, but now it seems on the verge of blowing up into full-scale ugliness. The trouble stems from his departure from the ZeniMax stable in November of last year, shortly after joining Oculus VR as Chief Technical Officer; in an exchange obtained by the Wall Street Journal, ZeniMax is now accusing Oculus of improperly using technology developed by Carmack during his time under the ZeniMax banner.

"ZeniMax confirms it recently sent formal notice of its legal rights to Oculus concerning its ownership of key technology used by Oculus to develop and market the Oculus Rift. ZeniMax's technology may not be licensed, transferred or sold without ZeniMax Media's approval. ZeniMax's intellectual property rights arise by reason of extensive VR research and development works done over a number of years by John Carmack while a ZeniMax employee, and others. 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," ZeniMax Media said in a statement send to The Escapist.

"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," the statement continues. "Oculus has used and exploited ZeniMax's technology and intellectual property without authorization, compensation or credit 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. ZeniMax believes it is necessary to address these matters now and will take the necessary action to protect its interests."

Oculus denies the claim outright, saying in a statement of its own, "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 great likelihood here is that some sort of licensing agreement will be reached in relatively short order, but there is one wild card in the deck that could throw a wrench into the works: Facebook, which recently acquired Oculus VR and has the resources needed to fight this kind of claim. If ZeniMax insists on a stake in Oculus and Facebook doesn't feel like sharing, this could actually go to the mat.

As for Carmack himself, he took a not-quite-cut-and-dried position on the matter on Twitter that appears to at least tacitly acknowledge that ZeniMax's claim has some validity. "No work I have ever done has been patented," he tweeted. "Zenimax owns the code that I wrote, but they don't own VR."

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The only reason they're doing this is because Facebook bought Oculus VR and Facebook has a lot of money. So their greed took over and this is the result.

Wow. So now the money is out they want a slice! Can't say I'm surprised, happens all the time. I just hope he didn't use any of his code by accident...

Way to thank him for all the work he did at id under their wing.

This isn't the first time they got nasty, anyone remember their battle with Notch and Scrolls? ....Anybody? You there with the blue hat! You remember? ....D: Nope.

Huh, I wasn't aware that one could own someone else's "know how". Does that mean Zeni-Max owns anything he does forever because he developed his "know-how" with them first? I hope they don't actually try that as a legal argument!

They may own all that he created before he left but they cannot stop him from using his knowledge. It is like they think that he worked for them for a while and therefore they now own his brain or something.

I interpreted this as

Dear, John Carmack

Fuck you.

Signed,
ZeniMax

The timing of this is too perfect for it be a coincidence. I'm wondering if they were waiting for the Oculus to get a nice, fat revenue stream before attempting this, but the Facebook deal catalyzed that plan.

Snotnarok:
This isn't the first time they got nasty, anyone remember their battle with Notch and Scrolls? ....Anybody? You there with the blue hat! You remember? ....D: Nope.

Not the same thing. Their actions against Scrolls was mandated by the way US copyright law works. They have to take action against everyone if they ever want to be able to take action against people who are actually copying them. Its just a shitty law. you cannot judge a company based solely on their obeying it.

josemlopes:
Way to thank him for all the work he did at id under their wing.

They thanked him with a very large amount of money paid monthly for all the time he worked there

Adam Jensen:
The only reason they're doing this is because Facebook bought Oculus VR and Facebook has a lot of money. So their greed took over and this is the result.

Which is why they waited until they were bought by a company that can literally afford the best IP lawyers in the world, potentially risking that they would raise the defense of implied licence (i.e. they let it go for so long as to imply consent for the IP's use) rather than going after them when they were running on kickstarter funds and would most likely settle?

FinalDream:
Wow. So now the money is out they want a slice! Can't say I'm surprised, happens all the time. I just hope he didn't use any of his code by accident...

There is an exception in IP law that coding done in the absence of influence (independently created) can be considered non-infringement. But Carmack would have to be completely separated from the coding process (this can be done retroactively, though, and many large software corporations have entire divisions designed to do this).

Man, once I perfect my mind-wiping/extracting electro-shock brain-implants, I'll make millions.

The electro-shocks don't even serve a purpose in the process!

I added it for that extra huge little flair of unimaginable pain incomprehensible pain.

Zenimax... How I hope the company chrashes and burns and all their IP's are scattered to the wind, to be picked up freely by anyone who wants to.

As for the subject at hand, we have a their word again'st our word situation and no idea what the case actually is. My bet is that Carmack is smart enough not to actually "steal" any work from a previous workplace, at least not any that he didn't know he could get away with and that Zenimax is fishing for a quick settlement on a baseless case.

Even if I'm wrong, I have so little respect for Zenimax that I don't care. I'm considering adding them to my boycott list.

Oh Zenimax. You are the "King" of publishers and parent companies.

Carmack and the others seem to have forgotten that they must bow before your eminence.

Smilomaniac:
Zenimax... How I hope the company chrashes and burns and all their IP's are scattered to the wind, to be picked up freely by anyone who wants to.

As for the subject at hand, we have a their word again'st our word situation and no idea what the case actually is. My bet is that Carmack is smart enough not to actually "steal" any work from a previous workplace, at least not any that he didn't know he could get away with and that Zenimax is fishing for a quick settlement on a baseless case.

Even if I'm wrong, I have so little respect for Zenimax that I don't care. I'm considering adding them to my boycott list.

If Elder Scrolls Online cost as much as some of the rumour's say and the game's sales are as underwhelming as they currently look that may not be to far off.

Raziel:

Snotnarok:
This isn't the first time they got nasty, anyone remember their battle with Notch and Scrolls? ....Anybody? You there with the blue hat! You remember? ....D: Nope.

Not the same thing. Their actions against Scrolls was mandated by the way US copyright law works. They have to take action against everyone if they ever want to be able to take action against people who are actually copying them. Its just a shitty law. you cannot judge a company based solely on their obeying it.

I don't recall them having a good response with it however, Notch made some post about a match in quake or something and they ignored him and just let the lawyers take care of it. At least till people were getting annoyed.
It is a pretty shitty law considering Scrolls doesn't really have much to do with The Elder Scrolls.

Looks like someone wants some of that fat face book money bag being passed around.

Some companies have contracts that whatever their employees do, belongs to the company, even in the employee's free time.

If ZeniMax has this sort of contracts and feel like being real assholes, they might think that whatever Carmack learned and did when he already worked for Oculus (but also for ZeniMax at the same time), belongs to ZeniMax.

It is also possible that JC actually did take some property which he thought belongs to him (or to nobody else at least). I wouldn't be surprised if he missed this kind of technicality meant only for lawyers to understand.

Either way, no wonder Carmack left ZeniMax. He does believe in freedom of software (and related stuff) after all. Has he even patented anything at all, ever?

The Gentleman:
There is an exception in IP law that coding done in the absence of influence (independently created) can be considered non-infringement. But Carmack would have to be completely separated from the coding process (this can be done retroactively, though, and many large software corporations have entire divisions designed to do this).

True, but like my contract (SQL developer and Visual Basic), I'd assume he had a clause that basically states anything developed while working for the company is owned by the company. He did a lot of stuff for ZeniMax, so they might just have a leg to stand on in court.

FinalDream:

The Gentleman:
There is an exception in IP law that coding done in the absence of influence (independently created) can be considered non-infringement. But Carmack would have to be completely separated from the coding process (this can be done retroactively, though, and many large software corporations have entire divisions designed to do this).

True, but like my contract (SQL developer and Visual Basic), I'd assume he had a clause that basically states anything developed while working for the company is owned by the company. He did a lot of stuff for ZeniMax, so they might just have a leg to stand on in court.

Yes, and that's why independent creation is an acceptable defense. It isn't a product of their's if the other firm made it without using their property (i.e. Carmack's prior programming under Zenimax). And this all assumes that the US Supreme Court remains consistent on software IP issues (every once and a while they change what is protected, giving tech firms a headache and IP lawyers a few more billable hours).

I think at this point the best thing to do is to let it go through pleadings and discovery and let the courts sort it out. My bet is that it will end quietly with Zenimax selling its VR IP to Oculus Rift/facebook for a profit as part of a settlement.

Oh dear. this could really be bad for Zenimax.

"The proprietary technology and know-how Mr. Carmack developed when he was a ZeniMax employee, and used by Oculus, are owned by ZeniMax."

Bolded the telling part. It's exceptionally difficult to pull a lock on learned knowledge a person carries between businesses in similar fields. At most they could push for trade secrets, but they'd have to prove it's an actual trade secret and not just a competing product.

Going off Carmack's twitter, it sounds like none of the code he wrote was brought over, but he(unsurprisingly) remembered how it worked.
If they haven't a patent on the method and can't prove trade secret, then Carmack is legally allowed to rewrite(not re-use) the code wherever and whenever he sees fit.

Reading this is bring back bad memories. :c

FinalDream:
Wow. So now the money is out they want a slice! Can't say I'm surprised, happens all the time. I just hope he didn't use any of his code by accident...

I had a similar thing happen a couple years ago, after I left my internship at id for another company, after I won a contest for TF2 that eventually led to their in-game hat store. I was very sure I was within the bounds of my contract the whole time, but it was still scary to see something like that from a big corporation aimed right at you.

I've heard that Zenimax is fairly strict with their full-time people and what they're able to do outside of work, but I'm also assuming JC knew what his contract looked like.

I hope he can work it out!

josemlopes:
Way to thank him for all the work he did at id under their wing.

Well ZeniMax acquired id in 2009, since then they published Rage and Doom BFG both did fine but not great, Carmack also worked on id tech 5 under their wing which wasn't really a success since the only two games that will be using it are Wolf New Order and Doom 4, Cry Engine, UE4 and Frostbite are far more popular. Also work on Doom 4 was greatly extended because the supposed quality didn't meet publisher's standards.

With all due respect, Carmack is a great engineer who revolutionized gaming as we know it however his achievements under ZeniMax were, objectively speaking, rather scarce. He cost them lots of money actually with all those loses brought by Doom and Rage.

Raziel:

Not the same thing. Their actions against Scrolls was mandated by the way US copyright law works. They have to take action against everyone if they ever want to be able to take action against people who are actually copying them. Its just a shitty law. you cannot judge a company based solely on their obeying it.

If that's how US copyright law works, then why did they open a trademark lawsuit against Mojang?

And more importantly, if you know so little about either that you can't even tell the difference between of these two unrelated legal concepts, why are you spreading factoids that are true for neither of them, just to excuse ZeniMax's trademark abuse?

Gorrath:
Huh, I wasn't aware that one could own someone else's "know how". Does that mean Zeni-Max owns anything he does forever because he developed his "know-how" with them first? I hope they don't actually try that as a legal argument!

it's mainly the code he developed.

sure, he knows how to do it, but he cant use that code without Zenimax consent.

It's like that one lawsuit where a programmer who made some of the original Madden games had found his code was still being used, and hadn't been properly paid for it.

Just ridiculous. At this point we should be glad Facebook bought them. Occulus would never be able to hold out on their own. Facebook probably has a telephone book full of lawyers on their side so at very least it's even grounded. Imagine, just like that VR could be dead. This should make the people who are in charge of IP's and Patents take notice. Because last I checked, Zenimax hadn't announced their own VR Headset, but they somehow own something that could put a halt to the whole thing, potentially.

Alterego-X:
If that's how US copyright law works, then why did they open a trademark lawsuit against Mojang?

Many people, within and outside of the US, refer to US intellectual property laws (copyright, trademark, and patents) simply as "copyright infringement". On top of that, all categories of US IP law have similar clauses that require an IP holder to pursue anything that might be construed as infringement or essentially lose the right to pursue any perceived or actual infringement. So nitpicking names is a rather asinine thing to do in this case.

And more importantly, if you know so little about either that you can't even tell the difference between of these two unrelated legal concepts, why are you spreading factoids that are true for neither of them, just to excuse ZeniMax's trademark abuse?

In the ultimate turn or irony you have used the incorrect IP terminology this time. Fairly certain Oculus didn't use ZeniMax's name, or their name's likeness, without permission.

But the poster is dead on the money. In all contracts like this the company retains the rights to all work conducted by the employee regardless if the work was IP law protected (read "copyrighted", "trademarked", and/or "patented" for the appropriate situation) or not unless explicitly stated to the contrary. Many go so far as to have a clause saying anything made by the employee in their personal time is also company property due to the employee obviously having to use company assists (IE knowledge gained and/or discovered at the company) to create the thing. But wait, there's more. Many contracts specifically state you can not work for another software firm congruently and many go so far as to bar you from the industry for an amount of time after your separation. We don't even know anything about that elephant in the room yet.

Everyone just needs to chill out for a second and find out the intricacies of the situation before they go into a blind ignorant rage at one side or the other.

Kumagawa Misogi:

Smilomaniac:
Zenimax... How I hope the company chrashes and burns and all their IP's are scattered to the wind, to be picked up freely by anyone who wants to.

As for the subject at hand, we have a their word again'st our word situation and no idea what the case actually is. My bet is that Carmack is smart enough not to actually "steal" any work from a previous workplace, at least not any that he didn't know he could get away with and that Zenimax is fishing for a quick settlement on a baseless case.

Even if I'm wrong, I have so little respect for Zenimax that I don't care. I'm considering adding them to my boycott list.

If Elder Scrolls Online cost as much as some of the rumour's say and the game's sales are as underwhelming as they currently look that may not be to far off.

I was feeling this too.

What a bunch of bitter lemons.

"whats this? an insanely talented and experienced developer looking to expand his horizons and work on exciting and new ventures?... WELL WE CANT HAVE ANY OF THAT SHIT CAN WE!?"

ugh, nothing is worse than stupid greedy people in positions of power

I feel like ZeniMax has been trying real hard for the last few years to get me to start hating Bethesda by association...

newwiseman:
I feel like ZeniMax has been trying real hard for the last few years to get me to start hating Bethesda by association...

Between things like this, the Scrolls business, Id's lack of quality output (or any output at all) and Elder Scrolls: Online I sometimes think Zenimax is somehow trying to sabotage itself, it's as if they like to just burn money.

Alterego-X:

Raziel:

Not the same thing. Their actions against Scrolls was mandated by the way US copyright law works. They have to take action against everyone if they ever want to be able to take action against people who are actually copying them. Its just a shitty law. you cannot judge a company based solely on their obeying it.

If that's how US copyright law works, then why did they open a trademark lawsuit against Mojang?

And more importantly, if you know so little about either that you can't even tell the difference between of these two unrelated legal concepts, why are you spreading factoids that are true for neither of them, just to excuse ZeniMax's trademark abuse?

The cynical view as to how US copyright law or other similar areas for that matter works is whichever way creates the most work for lawyers. I believe the US has the largest per capita work force of lawyer's in the world, about 1 in 100. Gotta find work to keep them all busy!

Now this loses me a bit. As far as I know, he developed the technology. He made progress in his field of operation as an engineer. That affects his future work because you don't just discard progress, if you find a way to do something better, are you meant to think of another way when you leave the company? How they managed to have ownership of his knowledge in his field is beyond me and frankly shouldn't happen.

Andy Chalk:
"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.

So yeah, they're basically arguing they have property rights over John Carmack's mind. Anything he knows about VR technology belongs to them, apparently.

This is one more nail in the coffin that is "justifications that remain for the imposition of copyright law".

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