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.”
No work I have ever done has been patented. Zenimax owns the code that I wrote, but they don't own VR.— John Carmack (@ID_AA_Carmack) May 1, 2014
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.”