You know what they say: more money, more problems. And now that Oculus has started the process of being absorbed by Facebook, the virtual reality company’s Chief Technology Officer, John Carmack, has been hit with allegations from his former workplace that he brought stolen technology to the startup.
The Wall Street Journal reported today that Carmack’s former employer, video game publishing conglomerate ZeniMax Media, has claimed that its former employee took intellectual property that proved instrumental in the development of the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset. The report says that in 2012, Carmack—then still an employee of ZeniMax subsidiary id Software—was contacted by the eventual cofounder of Oculus, Palmer Luckey.
According to the article, ZeniMax alleges that Carmack provided technology owned by the company to Luckey, that ZeniMax-owned tech served as the basis for the Oculus Rift headset and that this has subsequently led to Facebook’s planned $2 billion acquisition of the company this past March. Moreover, Carmack left his longtime position at id Software—and, by extension, his position at ZeniMax—last summer to become the CTO of the then-independent tech startup. He was joined by five other ZeniMax employees in his migration to Oculus.
The article quotes a letter sent from ZeniMax to Oculus and Facebook’s legal representatives:
“It was only through the concerted efforts of Mr. Carmack, using technology developed over many years at, and owned by, ZeniMax, that Mr. Luckey was able to transform his garage-based pipe dream into a working reality.”
Of course, it wouldn’t be a legal tech fight without a statement of denial from the people on the receiving end of these allegations. Though neither Luckey nor Carmack provided commentary on the legal dispute, an Oculus spokesperson did provide a 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.”
The article also notes that in 2012, ZeniMax started looking for recompense from Oculus for the alleged impropriety, with the virtual reality company even offering the game publisher “a small equity stake.” The two companies couldn’t come to an agreement, but the offer itself could potentially be construed by outsiders—fairly or unfairly—as a possible admission of responsibility on the part of Oculus.
Overall, it would seem that the main question here is whether the work done by Carmack while under ZeniMax’s employ does, indeed, belong to ZeniMax. It almost goes without saying that whatever technology and intellectual property ZeniMax is claiming ownership over was likely created and developed by Carmack and wasn’t pilfered from some ZeniMax hard drive that he had happened upon late one night.
The other big question, naturally, is how far the two companies plan on taking this dispute. ZeniMax is a notoriously litigious corporation, filing suit against independent game developer Mojang for its plans to put out a digital collectible card game called Scrolls. ZeniMax alleged that Scrolls infringed on its Elder Scrolls IP, even though the games were nothing alike.
Hopefully this dispute will be settled soon—and we’ll all get the sweet virtual reality headsets that we deserve.