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John Carmack Accused of Taking ZeniMax-owned VR Tech to Oculus

ZeniMax Media, owner of legendary videogame developer John Carmack’s former development studio, id Software, has claimed that the ex-employee took virtual reality (VR) technology from the company when he moved to Oculus Rift headset makers Oculus VR. The company is now seeking action, claiming that Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey has been used ZeniMax Media-owned technology to develop the Oculus Rift without permission.

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“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,” reads a claim from ZeniMax Media, sent to Oculus VR and picked up on by The Wall Street Journal.

Oculus VR issued a response, stating “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.”

Engadget contacted ZeniMax Media to confirm the claims. It did so, further stating that the two companies had previously tried to reach an understanding about use of what it claims to be its technology, but were unsuccessful. It reinforced claims that the proprietary technology and technical know-how that Carmack developed during his time with ZeniMax Media were propety of the company and that Palmer Luckey was now using them without permission.

“ZeniMax confirms it recently sent formal notice of its legal rights to Oculus concerning its ownership of key technology used by Oculus to develop and market the Oculus Rift,” the statement reads. “ZeniMax’s technology may not be licensed, transferred or sold without ZeniMax Media’s approval. 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.

“The proprietary technology and know-how Mr. Carmack developed when he was a ZeniMax employee, and used by Oculus, are owned by ZeniMax. 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.”

What further action will be taken, if any, is unclear at this time. Carmack came on board with Oculus VR on 7th August 2013, acting as Cheif Technology Officer. Since then a string of high-profile developers have signed onto the company, including the likes of Valve’s Michael Abrash. VRFocus will continue to follow this situation and report back with all the latest.