ZeniMax: Carmack stole our intellectual property for Oculus

John Carmack’s recent career change has raised quite a few eyebrows—and, as the Wall Street Journal reported this morning, it’s also landed Carmack and his new employer in hot water.

The Journal says ZeniMax, id Software’s parent company, has alleged in two separate letters that Carmack “improperly took ZeniMax’s intellectual property with him to Oculus.” ZeniMax credits the misappropriated intellectual property for “[propelling] Oculus from a shoestring startup to technology’s big leagues in less than two years.” Word is that ZeniMax is seeking financial compensation.

The letters come on the heels of Oculus VR’s acquisition by Facebook, a deal valued at $2 billion. The dispute itself, however, seems to date back to 2012, when Carmack collaborated with Oculus VR co-founder Palmer Luckey on his first virtual-reality headset prototype. “People familiar with the discussions” claim ZeniMax sought financial compensation as early as August 2012. ZeniMax was reportedly offered a “small equity stake” in the startup, but in the end, no deal was made.

Speaking to the latest allegations, Oculus VR told the Journal, “It’s unfortunate, but when there’s this type of transaction, people come out of the woodwork with ridiculous and absurd claims.” (Oculus is presumably referring to the Facebook deal.)

Even discounting Carmack’s collaboration with Luckey two years ago, there’s clearly been some overlap between his work at id Software and Oculus. Earlier this month, Carmack tweeted, “When you are in a hurry, and you know you wrote the exact needed code (well!) at a previous job, reimplementation grates.” Carmack wasn’t available to comment on today’s story, the Journal says.

Update 12:50 PM: Carmack has tweeted the following statement: “No work I have ever done has been patented. Zenimax owns the code that I wrote, but they don’t own VR.”

After co-founding the company and serving as its tech guru for more than 22 years, John Carmack left id Software last November to concentrate on his work at Oculus. Carmack had been named Chief Technology Officer of the virtual-reality firm three months prior, and he had split his time between Oculus and id until his departure from the latter.

Comments closed
    • mcnasty72@gmail.com
    • 7 years ago

    He also stole ten bucks from me with a scam called Rage….

    • Billstevens
    • 7 years ago

    Zenimax is screwed…

    [url<]http://www.gamespot.com/articles/report-elder-scrolls-parent-company-seeking-compensation-for-oculus-rift-headset-oculus-calls-claims-ridiculous/1100-6419351/[/url<] If there are zero lines of code in OR software written by Carmack under his employment with Zenimax and they don't have patents on any methods they are using they have jack s*** to work with. If they even get a judge to order the inspection of OR source code once they find its a unique implementation, even if the algorithms and methods are the same Zenimax has no claim to anything.

    • kamikaziechameleon
    • 7 years ago

    I feel like id software has bad blood with zenimax cause they haven’t made a game worth a damn since the acquisition and now they lead talent at a studio of generally talent-less people has left.

    id is a black whole of creativity and quality and zenimax is probably trying to salvage something.

    • kamikaziechameleon
    • 7 years ago

    tweeting legal matters is not the most mature thing to do.

    #AuditsBlow!

    • yammerpickle2
    • 7 years ago

    Zenimax had a shot at working with Carmack and making one of the first big games coded to support the Oculus, but the short sited money grubbing executives could not see past short term profits to see a bigger vision of the future. Now that Oculus has a big buzz in part because Carmack formally joined them, and Mark Zuckerburg did see the vision and invested, those same douchebags regret their stupidity. Not because they were stupid and short sited, but only because they see dollar signs. So like a LOL cat they come out with “All your Oculus codes belongs to us.” As a kickstarter backer I was not happy when the Facebook deal was announce, but at least that seems to be moving the tech forward. Zenimax had the bird in the hand, and did nothing with it. Now they want two birds from the Facebook bush. I hope they drop a boatload of money on legal fees and get zilch.

    • kamikaziechameleon
    • 7 years ago

    I wonder if they will play up the copyright or patent implications here.

    This is muddy water that is usually traversed by the entity with the most money. I don’t know what zenimax really hopes to get besides a settlement. They already parted ways with occulus in the past.

    If I’m a designer my employer doesn’t own everything I design, just everything I design for them. If I’m salaried (as I’m sure carmack was) things go even more in my favor to selectively operate as there are no fixed boundaries and the court will uphold the creative license of the individual over some non compete garbage.

    I would hazard a guess that if they want more than a settlement its to derail Carmacks departure due to him burning some bridges. Thing is he has that right and they can’t hope to suppress it. Non-competes don’t hold up if you can’t prove malicious intent, he could be doing work for another entity at work and plausibly still own that work under a salaried agreement regardless of what the contract says due to the pliability of the law its built on and the courts favor towards employees.

    • wierdo
    • 7 years ago

    I hope the Occulus folks have already done the legwork to get patent protection from this sort of trolling.

    • maxxcool
    • 7 years ago

    And all the patent lawyers rejoiced.. for their coffers flowed onto past the rim..

      • odizzido
      • 7 years ago

      Half the people in the US could be lawyers and there still would be open jobs

        • maxxcool
        • 7 years ago

        Indeed.. I am curious.. how much cash from lawsuits changed hands in 2013..

          • Milo Burke
          • 7 years ago

          My company was awarded a settlement for $300,000 last year. Some random website says there are 18,000,000 companies in the US. Assuming all companies went through identical lawsuits, and that lawsuits only happen in the US, $5.4 trillion changed hands last year.

            • maxxcool
            • 7 years ago

            even if it were half that … holy hell that should be part of the GNP ..

            • Milo Burke
            • 7 years ago

            You can’t argue with math.

    • windwalker
    • 7 years ago

    That “grating” tweet is an admission that he stole “the code that he wrote”.
    Oculus is on the hook for using it and Carmack is on the hook for making an unauthorized copy of it.

      • superjawes
      • 7 years ago

      Not even close…

      Let’s say I design a protection circuit at one job, then I have to design a similar protection circuit at a new job. Even if I somehow manage to design the exact same circuit, it isn’t stealing or making an unauthorized copy because I am doing all of the work again. Just because I designed the same type of circuit at some point in the past for a different company does not mean that I am stealing their IP.

      That tweet is only an admission that Carmack wrote code for a specific function before, and now he has to write something with the same or similar function again, from scratch. Not stealing.

        • maxxcool
        • 7 years ago

        That will only hold if he can ‘prove’ prior art … or whatever prior arty-thingy would apply here ..

          • windwalker
          • 7 years ago

          No, this is about copyright not about patents.

        • Farting Bob
        • 7 years ago

        Exactly, unless he literally copy/pasted from zenimax servers to Oculus servers i dont see any issue. He was moaning for having to basically rewrite stuff just because he couldnt reuse it.

        • BobbinThreadbare
        • 7 years ago

        I’m pretty sure if the previous company owned a patent to your circuit, they would actually have a claim.

        They would have a claim even if someone who wasn’t you came up with the circuit without ever seeing yours.

          • NeelyCam
          • 7 years ago

          Of course, but this is a case of a circuit that wasn’t patented, but instead kept a ‘trade secret’

        • windwalker
        • 7 years ago

        The tweet is an expression of annoyance with the idea of reimplementation.
        It doesn’t say what he did about it.

        • Billstevens
        • 7 years ago

        Yup the only way he would get slammed would be if he literally copy and pasted a lot of id code and clearly wasn’t capable of reproducing it. The whole thing is just trying gain some media attention and see if they can’t get Facebook to throw some money at them to stfu.

        • tanker27
        • 7 years ago

        No but if you designed at circuit at a job where it was your job was to plug in the cog, and you used company resources for said circuit, that company can lay claim on your IP as their IP because you worked on something not related to your immediate job.

        Its a gray are between Oculus and id but its what will happen if it ever goes to court.

        This is why a lot of IT contracts/ job applications/ companies have this clause somewhere.

          • Billstevens
          • 7 years ago

          Yes that is true but they are possibly blowing their claim way out of proportion. If Carmack blatantly reused source code made on Zenimax time and put it into the Oculus source code then Zenimax will have a claim for damages and loss of potential income from their code being used.

          It sounds like they want to take it a step further and try to prove that OR’s success and buyout by Facebook was a direct result of their code being used. That’s a bold claim and probably difficult to prove unless said code made up a significant portion of the Oculus code base or was a deal breaking feature. Even then the only results would be nice payday, that will be the end of it. Carmack easily has the resources now to have his team go back and implement Oculus copyright versions of any code he may have reused. And he clearly owns the technical skill to recreate any of his algorithms without the need to simply steal code.

          In the end, financially Zenimax likely did the right thing by waiting to force the issue till now because they now have a better shot of extracting more money. The only thing Carmack did to hurt their business was quit. He’s even offered to continue to be a keynote speaker at Quakecon which is a huge money draw for Zenimax. They are burning a bridge for money… but its possible Carmack was careless or upset when he made his transition though he doesn’t strike me as careless.

        • NeelyCam
        • 7 years ago

        That’s not exactly correct.

        If you were paid to invent and develop a protection circuit while working for Company A, the Company A owns the intellectual property of that circuit, even if they don’t patent it. The protection circuit you designed can be considered a “trade secret”.

        If you move to Company B, you cannot “re-design” the same exact circuit, because that would be using Company A’s trade secret for Company B’s benefit. Company B didn’t pay for the development of the protection circuit – Company A did. Company A owns that protection circuit.

        Now, if you design a protection circuit for the same purpose but it’s different from the one you designed for Company A, that would be fine. But you cannot use any unique, non-trivial aspects of the circuit you designed for Company A in this new one, or you’re stealing Company A’s trade secret.

        If the circuit you designed for Company A is public knowledge, trivial, obvious to someone skilled in your “art” etc., then you can obviously use it for Company B.

        Of course there is some gray area here, but you can’t just assume that something you developed in one company you can use in another company.

      • danny e.
      • 7 years ago

      The tweet says exactly the opposite. He already coded the solution once and is annoyed that he is having to re-implement the solution (and all that comes with it). IE, retesting and ensuring the new solution is the right solution.

        • windwalker
        • 7 years ago

        I can see how that could be what he meant.
        It’s easy enough to prove either way by comparing the implementations.

          • sparkman
          • 7 years ago

          In the tweet Carmack says that Zenimax owns the code he wrote (for Zenimax). Carmack isn’t going to boldly admit that Zenimax owns code then steal said code and give it to Oculus… that would be legal suicide… therefore Carmack didn’t give any Zenimax code to Oculus.

          In other words, Zenimax is bonkers.

    • UnfriendlyFire
    • 7 years ago

    “When you are in a hurry, and you know you wrote the exact needed code (well!) at a previous job”

    Done that with my programming assignments for a college course. On some of them, you will see bits of very similar code. Because why reinvent the wheel?

      • windwalker
      • 7 years ago

      That’s perfectly fine because you own the copyright to the code of your programming assignments.

    • superjawes
    • 7 years ago

    I’ll bet $100 that they’re claiming Carmack himself as the intellectual property. Any takers?

      • DPete27
      • 7 years ago

      “How dare you use your programming knowledge for another company.”

    • tanker27
    • 7 years ago

    I knew it, I knew it, I knew it. Just had to give it time.

    I dont care if he actually used any intellectual property, but if he worked on Oculus on ‘company’ time……yeah they can reach out and claim that.

    • HisDivineOrder
    • 7 years ago

    Well, I guess ZeniMax was really annoyed by Carmack showing up in their offices, saying, “We have to support VR or I’m just going to get bored here!” and then when they shrugged and said, “VR is fringe. We don’t support fringe things. We don’t support Wii U either!” he said, “Well then, I quit.”

    And fuming, they waited for their moment. Plotting and scheming, whispering how they’d get him in the end, even if they had to point fingers without starting any kind of lawsuit.

    And so they have.

      • NeelyCam
      • 7 years ago

      If you’re annoyed that things don’t go your way, you can’t just move to a new company and continue the stuff there with the IP from the original company. Even if you’re a quasi-nerd-deity like Carmack.

      We’ll see if the suit has merit. If it does, well… Facebook might settle for $1bil.

        • NovusBogus
        • 7 years ago

        It probably isn’t as simple as copy pasting lines of code. A lot of companies have a “we own everything you make no matter what” clause in the contract, which has dubious enforceability on things done on one’s own time and not related to the business or its competitors.

        • Billstevens
        • 7 years ago

        Yeah you can…. you just may have yo deal with a lawsuit…. zenimax is a turd floating in the ocean next Facebook when it comes to cash and lawyers. I hope they enjoy their pitiful cash settlement if they can even make a case.

          • NeelyCam
          • 7 years ago

          Oh, so you’re attitude is that if you have money, it’s OK to break the law?

          Sucks for mom/pop stores, small startups, and anyone in the 99%.

            • SHOES
            • 7 years ago

            Hmm… They obviously have a patent, or some sort of binding contract then eh? “Intellectual property” is a pretty loose term nowadays. I am sure if real Intellectual property was stolen justice will be served. Zenimax will probably make more money than if Carmack would have stayed on and went stagnant if this proves to be the case. But to choose sides because someone yelled foul would be ignorant. Lets wait patiently for the facts to be presented.

            • Billstevens
            • 7 years ago

            Look we all know these are broken laws that are routinely abused and truth is the court system will sort it out. Half the time they defend someones intellectual property that is being abused or stolen and the other half they are used by patent trolls to extract money from a company to which they are not entitled.

            The truth is we will never know who the bad guy is no matter what the outcome is. Its not black an white. My bias tends to side with a company who is trying to do something new and inventive that is being sued by a company who is clearly just upset they didn’t get their cut. Zenimax was at worst never going to do anything with VR and are just trolling for money or at best felt like they got cut out of a company they contributed to.

            I am sure Cramack came up with a lot of algorithms for graphics processing that have done a good deal to improve the OR, now for his previous employer to be upset that he is using these things he created to help a company that is in no way in competition with it is just childish and really an abuse of the spirit of the law. So don’t give me that bullshit that thinking Zenimax is full of shit means that we or just myself are against laws. Copyright law is not black and white.

            If OR really tried to negotiate fair payment for any prior claim that Zenimax may have had to some of Cramack’s work then this whole situation and timing stinks of Zenimax just waiting for OR to have some kind of success so that could extract a nice settlement or some form of royalties.

            If it really got that bad though Cramack can legally just go recreate new source and libraries for all of his algorithms in use and Zenimax really can’t do a damn thing about it without patents except take some money based on Oculus’s current success claiming that they would have never been bought by Facebook were it not for Carmack’s copyrighted algorithms. Even that may prove tough if a good protition of the in use code was developed without Carmack’s influence, I am sure the lawyers and expert witnesses will figure all that out if this ever goes to court.

            I don’t think Zenimax really wants that though because there is no way Oculus or Facebook will let CV1 go to market with copyrighted code so at some point they will be cut out of the loop.

            • LastQuestion
            • 7 years ago

            I think it’s more about how the law tends to favor those with superior resources.

    • spuppy
    • 7 years ago

    Oculus VR already had $91 million of funding (including kickstarter) before Carmack joined as CTO. Hardly a “shoestring startup” by that point, IMO

      • David
      • 7 years ago

      Wrong. Carmack started helping out in 2012. Oculus didn’t get the VC funding until later in 2013.

    • danny e.
    • 7 years ago

    Patch is out for the IE bug.

    Also, ZeniMax is just trying to get some facebook money.

      • danny e.
      • 7 years ago

      I took the update at work..
      It appears to break TR comments. Fuchsia bushes are nice.

        • danny e.
        • 7 years ago

        In IE, you can now not see comments or make comments.

          • NeelyCam
          • 7 years ago

          I had issues like that yesterday on my phone… and it’s not the first time that’s happened.

          In fact, I have that problem right now on my phone (using Android’s standard browser). So maybe it’s not because of IE…?

            • NeelyCam
            • 7 years ago

            Mmm.. Rebooting the phone seemed to fix the issue.

          • Delphis
          • 7 years ago

          And the web at large is improved. 😀

          • captaintrav
          • 7 years ago

          I’ve had that issue in IE before, without any patches, try toggling compatibility mode.

          • superjawes
          • 7 years ago

          #thanksIEbama…

          • danny e.
          • 7 years ago

          yeah, it must be something with my work machine. oddly enough comments were working before I took the update and not after.
          however, I took the update at home and comments still show / work fine with IE here.

      • Flying Fox
      • 7 years ago

      [quote<]Also, ZeniMax is just trying to get some facebook money.[/quote<] I agree with that assessment.

      • Firestarter
      • 7 years ago

      they missed out, so now they’re sour

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