Zenimax sues Oculus VR over virtual reality tech

Oculus Rift Crystal Cove prototype

ZeniMax Media and its subsidiary id Software, have filed suit against Oculus VR and its founder Palmer Luckey for “illegally misappropriating ZeniMax trade secrets relating to virtual reality technology, and infringing ZeniMax copyrights and trademarks.”

ZeniMax is also claiming breach of contract, unjust enrichment, and unfair competition against the defendants.

According to ZeniMax:

The suit arises from the defendants’ unlawful exploitation of intellectual property, including trade secrets, copyrighted computer code, and technical know-how relating to virtual reality technology that was developed by ZeniMax after years of research and investment. ZeniMax provided this valuable intellectual property to defendants under a binding Non-Disclosure Agreement that specifies such intellectual property is owned exclusively by ZeniMax and cannot be used, disclosed, or transferred to third parties without ZeniMax’s approval. ZeniMax’s intellectual property has provided the fundamental technology driving the Oculus Rift since its inception. Nevertheless, the defendants refused all requests from ZeniMax for reasonable compensation and continue to use ZeniMax’s intellectual property without authorization.

All efforts by ZeniMax to resolve this matter amicably have been unsuccessful. Oculus has recently issued a public statement remarkably claiming that “ZeniMax has never contributed IP or technology to Oculus.” Meanwhile, Luckey has held himself out to the public as the visionary developer of virtual reality technology, when in fact the key technology Luckey used to establish Oculus was developed by ZeniMax.

“Intellectual property forms the foundation of our business,” said Robert Altman, Chairman & CEO of ZeniMax. “We cannot ignore the unlawful exploitation of intellectual property that we develop and own, nor will we allow misappropriation and infringement to go unaddressed.”

“ZeniMax and id Software take their intellectual property rights seriously,” said P. Anthony Sammi, a Partner of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP which represents ZeniMax and id in this matter. “We now look to the federal courts and will pursue all appropriate measures available under the law to rectify defendants’ egregious conduct,” he added.

An Oculus VR representative issued the following response to Gamasutra:

“The lawsuit filed by Zenimax has no merit whatsoever. As we have previously said, Zenimax did not contribute to any Oculus technology. Oculus will defend these claims vigorously.”

Looking into the full complaint filing (which can be found here: ZeniMax v Oculus Complaint) the core arguments from ZeniMax are that they own all copyrightable works and technology produced by John Carmack while he was working for Zenimax following their acquisition of id Software in 2009.

For those who have been following the Oculus Rift development, it is well known that id Software co-founder John Carmack endorsed the project and lent his technical expertise to its development. Carmack joined the Oculus VR team in August 2013, and in November 2013 made his resignation from id Software and ZeniMax official.

ZeniMax further claims that Oculus VR and Carmack may be in breach of contract whereby Carmack was forbidden from recruiting ZeniMax employees for 2 years following his departure. ZeniMax alleges that five of its employees have since resigned simultaneously and joined Oculus VR. ZeniMax also claims that one of the employees refused to certify that all confidential information in his possession had been returned prior to his departure.

John Carmack wearing an Oculus Rift prototype

John Carmack wearing an Oculus Rift prototype

What do you make of this latest industry scuffle? Does ZeniMax have a legitimate claim or are they just trying to grab a piece of the big Facebook money now behind Oculus VR? Let us know in the comments.

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