id Software co-founder and programming guru John Carmack collaborated with Oculus founder Palmer Luckey early in the development of the Rift VR headset. Carmack eventually left id to take on the role of CTO at the VR firm, and id Software's parent company, ZeniMax, claims he took key intellectual property with him. Oculus says that assertion is bogus, and it asserted in a statement to the press today that it "will prove that all of [ZeniMax's] claims are false." The statement includes the following points.
- There is not a line of Zenimax code or any of its technology in any Oculus products.
- John Carmack did not take any intellectual property from Zenimax.
- Zenimax has misstated the purposes and language of the Zenimax non-disclosure agreement that Palmer Luckey signed.
- A key reason that John permanently left Zenimax in August of 2013 was that Zenimax prevented John from working on VR, and stopped investing in VR games across the company.
- Zenimax canceled VR support for Doom 3 BFG when Oculus refused Zenimax's demands for a non-dilutable equity stake in Oculus.
- Zenimax did not pursue claims against Oculus for IP or technology, Zenimax has never contributed any IP or technology to Oculus, and only after the Facebook deal was announced has Zenimax now made these claims through its lawyers.
- Despite the fact that the full source code for the Oculus SDK is available online (developer.oculusvr.com), Zenimax has never identified any 'stolen' code or technology.
Interesting. The non-disclosure agreement referenced in Oculus' statement leaked to The Verge last week. (It's now posted here.) The legalese is pretty mind-numbing, but there is mention of ZeniMax's "proprietary computer entertainment software, including virtual reality (VR) testbed software and related assets." According to The Verge, ZeniMax believes the document entitles it to "anything John Carmack contributed to the Oculus Rift."
Oculus disagrees, of course. The VR firm says it's "not surprised by Zenimax's actions." Given the alleged circumstances surrounding the cancellation of VR support for Doom 3 BFG, it seems there may have been some bad blood between the two companies long before Oculus was acquired by Facebook for $2 billion.
The ball is now in ZeniMax's court. Oculus doesn't appear willing to deal, and it has Facebook's considerable legal resources at its disposal. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out. At least the legal wrangling doesn't seem to be slowing the development of Oculus' first consumer headset. CEO Brendand Irbe said today that a new prototype is "coming soon."