id Software owner Zenimax seeking compensation for John Carmack’s contributions to Oculus Rift

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The news of Facebook’s acquisition of virtual reality headset company Oculus VR at the end of March was met with equal parts excitement and trepidation as the social media company splashed out $2 billion in cash and shares to get “ready for the platforms of tomorrow,” according to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

One of the key personalities contributing to the buzz surrounding the Oculus Rift headset was legendary game developer John Carmack, who before joining Oculus VR full-time at the end of 2013 had spread awareness and plainly stated his keen interest in the technology while still at id Software, even working part-time for the company while ‘retaining ties’ to id.

Now that Oculus VR has been purchased, and John Carmack’s expertise with it, id Software owner Zenimax Media is seeking monetary compensation for work the company believes Carmack contributed to Oculus while still under its employ.


In a statement sent to Oculus VR and picked up by the Wall Street Journal, Zenimax writes:

“It was only through the concerted efforts of Mr. Carmack, using technology developed over many years at, and owned by, ZeniMax, that [Oculus founder] Mr. Luckey was able to transform his garage-based pipe dream into a working reality.”

To clarify Zenimax’s position, the company sent out a formal statement to the press which confirmed the notice sent to Oculus VR, pointing out the rights associated with technology developed at Zenimax, and that this technology “may not be licensed, transferred or sold without ZeniMax Media’s approval,” bringing to light work contributed to the development of the Oculul Rift:

“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.”

A Grave Situation

Zenimax also points out that the “proprietary technology and know-how” developed while Carmack was an employee of Zenimax, and subsequently used by Oculus, “are owned by ZeniMax.” The situation becomes more serious as Zenimax writes:

“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. 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.”

Dead to Rights?

Oculus VR of course wholeheartedly disagrees with the assessment of the situation, writing in its own statement:

“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.”

John Carmack himself, never one to remain quiet on a subject, wrote on Twitter:

Before adding:

Shades of Grey

The situation definitely isn’t quite as clear-cut as Oculus hopes it can prove it is, especially considering the period of time during which Carmack worked at both id Software and Oculus VR. We’ll keep a close eye on the progress of the story.

Do you think Zenimax has a case and will be able to claim compensation for supposed technologies and expertise that may have benefited Oculus VR?

Source: Wall Street Journal via VR Focus

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