Oculus says its VR tech has no ZeniMax IP

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."

Comments closed
    • kamikaziechameleon
    • 9 years ago

    I was actually thinking that. id has proven to be a junker of an investment.

    • ronch
    • 9 years ago

    This world is so entrenched in the ‘this is mine’ mentality. No wonder the world is the way it is. Everyone wants everything.

    • Billstevens
    • 9 years ago

    If you give a law enough power and scope to do its job there will always be those who take advantage of it and abuse the privilege.

    From what I have heard from colleagues who do expert witness work in software the only downside of the whole thing is that many times you don’t know what side your on until you have already sign onto a case.

    Its really hard to tell the difference between a greedy troll and a legitimate or fair claim sometimes.

    • tanker27
    • 9 years ago

    Dang only three upvotes. Does anyone read real books anymore? Any geek who hasn’t read this book needs to turn in their geek card right now.

    In case you havent heard of the book it’s called [url=http://www.amazon.com/Ready-Player-One-A-Novel/dp/0307887448/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1399461894&sr=8-1&keywords=ready+player+one<]Ready Player One[/url<]

    • NovusBogus
    • 9 years ago

    Oculus is doing it wrong, they should be counterclaiming bad faith. They were clearly saving ZeniMax from itself, because the last time a publisher tried to make a gaming device [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UDraw_GameTablet<]it ended poorly[/url<]. Basically Zuck spent his monthly allowance so we wouldn't have to suffer the ignominy of watching the TES franchise auctioned off like an elven slave girl.

    • Pwnstar
    • 9 years ago

    The holodeck will be the last invention of Mankind.

    • Billstevens
    • 9 years ago

    When has anyone discussed Carmack’s contract in the recent allegations? The Palmer NDA seems to be the focus. Carmack may not have been signed with a non-compete agreement. Even he did he could still work in software and likely even another game company.

    Carmack was happy to keep working at id but he wanted to work on VR, at id if possible. Zenimax said no, so he didn’t renew his contract and left. He didn’t breach any contract and he apparently didn’t have any patented VR work. He didn’t even say anything bad about the company after he left.

    Therefor all Zenimax has is a non-disclosure agreement. Which may be enough to get a pay day if enough of the work done at id had demonstrable influence on the Oculus rift. I really don’t know enough about NDA’s to say how much of a power play they can make.

    • Billstevens
    • 9 years ago

    The timelines on the actual lawsuit are muddy. From all accounts I have heard they filed sometime after Facebooks intentions to purchase the company became public. The only thing ID has that the public doesn’t is a better record of how much work Palmer actually did with ID on VR.

    Outside of that all code used on the Oculus was not code written at ID. Therefore to connect the dots Zenimax had to pay a bunch of Software engineers and lawyers to comb through Oculus’s tech and software and identify everything they claim was an infringement on the NDA or any other contracts that could give them some rights to the tech Oculus used.

    That is anything but easy. When companies blatantly steal code this is easy, but when that is not the case things get difficult.

    I trying to make a deal with Oculus to continue work it doesn’t sound like Zenimax was being reasonable asking for an un-dilutable equity stake in Oculus.

    • PenGun
    • 9 years ago

    It does not look like a very difficult position for Zenimax. He worked for over a year on this tech while at id. They own id and have all the evidence. They initiated the suit after a fairly extensive search for a deal failed.

    • Billstevens
    • 9 years ago

    The burden of proof goes the other way. So it will be Zenimax’s job to show convincing evidence that Oculus technology used ID developed VR tech. That’s a big job and it will cost a lot of money to dig through code revisions to see what got implemented and where.

    The code is open source so maybe this has already begun. Its entirely possible that they legally reused concepts first thought of while under NDA. That’s gonna be up to the lawyers to determine. You would have to be well versed in current interpretations of NDA’s to say what will stick and what has wiggle room for argument.

    • yammerpickle2
    • 9 years ago

    Totally agree! Zenimax had the inside track with Carmack and Oculus game development. But the short sited executives did not want to “waste” resources on niche long term investment. When Carmack jumped ship it generated a lot of positive buzz for Oculus. So much that Zuck took notice and unlike Zenimax he saw the long term possible game changing potential and did decide to invest. Now that they are getting close to a production product, and have the deep pockets of Facebook those same greedy Zenimax executives want to get paid even though they chose not to invest in the tech. Why are they not pursuing Carmack and his Armadillo Aerospace? Because it does not have two billion sitting on the table. I hope Zenimax blows a lot on legal fees and that the Facebook legal team beats the tar out of them and sends them packing with their tails between their legs.

    • Wall Street
    • 9 years ago

    He didn’t steal anything. He has a contract that says he worked for Zenimax. Zenimax had VR technology and 3D engine technoligy (that belongs to Zenimax, NOT Carmack now). Carmack’s contract I would assume said that he could not work on videogames, 3D technology or software outside of Zenimax. I don’t know the direct language of the contract, but I would be shocked if he didn’t violate it. And if you say the contract is too broad and shouldn’t be enforceable: Carmack isn’t just any normal employee, he is the founder of id Software who chose to sell out and agreed to the contract!

    • PenGun
    • 9 years ago

    He worked on Oculus and VR stuff for over a year while at id.

    [url<]http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2012-07-09-john-carmack-on-virtual-reality-uncut[/url<] It's going to be difficult to show this work was not id work and therefore does not belong to Zenimax.

    • Bensam123
    • 9 years ago

    “Zenimax canceled VR support for Doom 3 BFG when Oculus refused Zenimax’s demands for a non-dilutable equity stake in Oculus.”

    I think that sums it all up right there. Someone got way too greedy for their own good and now some CEO some where is hurt he can’t get his monziez this quarter.

    • Billstevens
    • 9 years ago

    Thats not entirely the right way to look at it either. With out patents they down own Carmacks ideas. They language may look like it at first glance but they don’t. That being said if they can find evidence that a feature in Oculus that exists as a direct result of an idea developed or considered while under NDA and working with Zenimax, that clearly could not have come from another source then they may have some claim to Oculus’s current success.

    I find this unlikely though. The generic nature of Oculus and its work with so many other graphics and gaming companies I believe will make such a path impossible to prove. Once Carmack left he had complete ownership of all his ideas in relation to VR as long as they were independently developed.

    I say good luck to Zenimax in an effort to prove that any single idea came out of work done under the NDA and didn’t have other sources, such as during collaboration with Valve, Unreal and Unity teams. Especially if those ideas and implementations are so fundamental to VR they are almost obvious in retrospect. There may be something that fits the bill and gets Zenimax a pay day but it will be expensive to prove against a good set of Facebook lawyers.

    • Billstevens
    • 9 years ago

    This won’t prevent the deal. Facebooks lawyers would have evaluated potential suits and past relations and contracts Oculus had before making a formal offer. This did not surprise anyone on Oculus’s side.

    • Billstevens
    • 9 years ago

    It could go either way, clearly Facebook could front enough money to be in litigation much longer than Zenimax. Even big companies will settle to save money though if they believe the other side has a strong enough case. If it ends up being frivolous though and they are wasting everyone’s time and money I hope Zenimax is prepared for a counterclaim.

    • Billstevens
    • 9 years ago

    Oculus is in no way direct or indirect competition for Zenimax. Its not like Carmack got part way through making a video game engine then picked up left and made a new company to creating a competing game with the same technology.

    The only arguable damage Zenimax can claim here is that Oculus revealed some proprietary Zenimax work on VR that it did not wish disclosed. There are probably a lot of ideas like that and it is possible, though I think unlikely, that one of those such ideas made into the Oculus software.

    Oculus is a very general platform and I find it unlikely that any of their screen warping tech in relation to Doom 3 was so special that it was not independtly developed and derived for other engines for which the device is compatible. In fact their is no Doom 3 comparability for Oculus now since they scrapped though whole thing at Zenimax’s request.

    What exactly did he steal then? Employees are not indentured servants. They have not done anything to try to damage Zenimax, they did not slander the company even though things clearly didn’t end well. Oculus is not even a competitor so a non-compete contract would not matter. Zenimax had every right to demand Carmack not split his time and work with Oculus and Carmack made the right decision to quite if he wanted to work for them.

    • Pholostan
    • 9 years ago

    I hope you are right.

    • NarwhaleAu
    • 9 years ago

    Yep, basically all the suit can be about is that some of the work he did at Zenimax that was a trade secret / confidential made its way to Occulus. They had better hope they didn’t disclose any of those trade secrets to the public…

    • PenGun
    • 9 years ago

    That has absolutely nothing to do with the suit.

    Everything he did for id belongs to Zenimax. That is all the suit can be about.

    It depends completely on the contracts involved what the outcome will be. Zenimax has those contracts and knows what they say. They have launched the suit.

    • NovusBogus
    • 9 years ago

    Similar cases usually involve a company with a lot of lawyers outspending a small business or individual, since US civil law is as much about who can afford to stay in the game the longest as it is who’s actually in the right. Facebook, like Google, can field a very scary legal team for as long as necessary.

    • NovusBogus
    • 9 years ago

    The contract for my first R&D job laid claim to everything, not just business-related. I had to produce a list of prior works before joining to ensure that they couldn’t be stolen by lawyers. The clause was quite poorly written and probably wouldn’t hold up in court; the company in question tended to go with the lowest bidder for everything, including legal documents.

    Even if Carmack’s contract has such a clause it’s not a slam dunk for ZeniMax because there’s a number of ways a contract can be thrown out in court. This case will probably drag on for years and make some IP lawyers very rich, with neither side actually getting what they want in the end.

    • Billstevens
    • 9 years ago

    That is just not true. This will be handled by attorneys if they have a case. Judges are typically intelligent and fair though not always technically minded. However that doesn’t really matter because both sets of attorneys will weigh in on an interpretation of the allegations being made with their own sets of expert witnesses.

    If the judge is reasonably convinced there may have been some wrong doing on Oculus’s part they will order a review of any evidence including code by both attorney’s expert witness teams. I know a few developers that do expert witness work and they are not hacks, they are highly qualified to judge infringement cases when it comes software.

    The court system isn’t unfair because the people reviewing cases are unqualified. Its unfair because its possible to achieve more with deeper pockets. In this case both companies have very deep pockets so it will come down to stamina and evidence.

    • Concupiscence
    • 9 years ago

    They’ve gotta claw their investment in id back somehow, right? /s

    • Pholostan
    • 9 years ago

    It doesn’t matter if Carmac and Oculus are in the right, the courts don’t understand what code and programming is. Zenimax will probably win easily, look at several other similar court cases. The Oracle API case is an aberration, that judge actually knew what programming and code is. The odds are very low that this case will get a judge that knows jack about it. Zenimax will probably win.

    • Saber Cherry
    • 9 years ago

    Quake had rockets long before Armadillo Aerospace, so yes.

    • SomeOtherGeek
    • 9 years ago

    You mean, blood money?

    • cobalt
    • 9 years ago

    Actually, it’s quite common for companies to claim inventions and products you create on your own time if they relate to your job. Particularly if you’re salaried, there’s no such thing as “off the clock”. You have to explicitly request exemptions.

    That said, that’s not the same thing as skills and know-how; you can’t prevent someone from taking that with them. (With the rare exception of an enforceable clause in your contract preventing you from working for a competitor for X months after you leave.) They’re being pretty nebulous, so it’s hard to know what, if anything specific, Zenimax is claiming is theirs that he took with him.

    • Tech Savy
    • 9 years ago

    I agree, it’s like if you work two jobs, is the first job going to say that everything you did for the second job belongs to the first job when you were off of their clock? They make the argument as if John Carmack was their Slave. Just cause he was on their clock from 9 to 5 doesn’t mean they own everything he has done.

    Like I said, nothing but bad press for Zenimax.

    • Tech Savy
    • 9 years ago

    Sounds like a lot of negative Press for Zenimax.

    • odizzido
    • 9 years ago

    The company wouldn’t close down though, just change hands on who runs it. It’s up to the government after that how the company operates and they can feel free to remove just those people who were causing the problem.

    • kamikaziechameleon
    • 9 years ago

    The deal isn’t resolved so they aren’t facebook yet.

    • kamikaziechameleon
    • 9 years ago

    I would hazard a guess that the aggressor here is looking for cheap money. I’m looking at you ZeniMax!

    • Chrispy_
    • 9 years ago

    Heh, no.
    I was referring to the bullying and bad blood that caused Carmack to defect to Oculus in the first place.

    • NarwhaleAu
    • 9 years ago

    People leave companies all the time – and they take their talent and skills with them. Tough luck ZeniMax.

    • Scrotos
    • 9 years ago

    Man, if armadillo aerospace didn’t flop, would zenimax try to horn in on that company too? Our IP is in the rockets!

    • Scrotos
    • 9 years ago

    Just to clarify, there are no patents involved with this. Just NDA and IP. You kinda went straight for patent lawsuits are horrible but there is no indication any are involved here.

    • Wall Street
    • 9 years ago

    This is good in theory, and I can see where people think that Carmack is in the right (although I don’t agree). But if you started a company and didn’t every sue for breach of employment contract, then you company would suck. After paying people a salary to work for you regularly, your best employees would leave any time they had a really good idea. Intellectually oriented companies like tech companies rely on the fact that tech ideas you have while at the company have to be for the benefit of the company, they are paying you to have ideas afterall.

    • rahulahl
    • 9 years ago

    I’m not sure that Facebook qualify as a “small guy”.

    • Chrispy_
    • 9 years ago

    Zenimax in yet another “GIANT GREEDY SWALLOW-ALL-COMPETITORS CONGLOMERATE TRIES TO BULLY THE SMALL GUYS” headline shocker.

    • FireGryphon
    • 9 years ago

    That problem would get straightened out pretty fast, as such companies would quickly learn not to appoint a board of directors that would frivolously sue.

    • tanker27
    • 9 years ago

    I think Zenimax is worried that Carmack will create the OASIS with Oculus Tech and in some 30-40 years when he passes we will all be hunting for an Easter egg in OASIS that Carmack left that will lead us to his left behind fortune.

    • tanker27
    • 9 years ago

    A113…..LOL

    • nanoflower
    • 9 years ago

    He’s been quite clear that he took no code from his time at Id when he transferred over to Oculus. So I think Zenimax is going to have a tough time winning this lawsuit.

    • nanoflower
    • 9 years ago

    There’s a problem with such a wish. The company in most of these cases isn’t owned by the people involved in the lawsuits. It’s owned by individuals, hedge funds, mutual funds (your 401k), pension funds and others. So you wouldn’t be punishing the company but people who had no input into the law suits. You would have to hold the people behind the lawsuits personally responsible if you really want to shut them down. Or just make the bar to winning a lawsuit involving patents so high that most companies won’t bother.

    • Meadows
    • 9 years ago

    I will not accept that future without a directive A113.

    • PenGun
    • 9 years ago

    You can be sure that Zenimax would not take on faecbook, it’s a typo but I like it, frivolously.

    I think it all turns on the contracts that exist. Certainly Zenimax owns everything he did at id. Now the only thing that possibly allows for the, quite long time he worked on this stuff, is that if there is some separation from his work at id.

    That is what this is riding on. If he did that work while working for id software, then it belongs to Zenimax.

    • Laykun
    • 9 years ago

    “Facebook’s considerable legal resources at its disposal”, the moment ZeniMax realised they’d already lost.

    • odizzido
    • 9 years ago

    I wonder how many hours and how many dollars go into companies trying to sue eachother. It seems like such a complete waste of time for everyone who actually does something useful.

    I think the stakes should be upped. Any company that sues where it has been found to be baseless or ridiculous should have to turn 20% ownership of the company over to the government. After three baseless sue attempts you no longer own the company. Perhaps 1% of the company could be returned per year so that you could rage sue once every 20 years.

    • swaaye
    • 9 years ago

    Dark, terrifying red and black wireframe with stutters. TEH HORRORS!

    • LostCat
    • 9 years ago

    I’m already addicted to this computer…not much of a leap heh.

    • FireGryphon
    • 9 years ago

    Carmack had one public misstep with code (the Creative patent debacle) and probably others we never heard about, so I have some confidence he covered his tracks with what he could and could not do as an Oculus employee.

    That aside, is there not a single other PR image for Oculus other than the one of Carmack wearing a VR headset?

    • FireGryphon
    • 9 years ago

    Doom 3 on Virtual Boy sounds *awesome*!

    • MadManOriginal
    • 9 years ago

    I am looking forward to a future that looks like Wall-E when everyone becomes addicted to VR.

    • juampa_valve_rde
    • 9 years ago

    Facebook legal department could crush Zenimax, get all is games and “ip”, and release the goddamn Doom 3 BFG as free to play inside facebook with Oculus hahaha, and the previous Doom games in VR too.

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