Oculus VR sued over intellectual property theft

Oculus VR sued over intellectual property theft

Summary: Oculus VR, maker of the Oculus Rift headset and recently acquired by Facebook, is being sued over alleged intellectual property theft.

TOPICS: Tech Industry
Screen Shot 2014-05-22 at 12.12.15

Oculus VR and its founder Palmer Luckey are being sued by ZeniMax Media over claims the company infringed upon intellectual property in the development of the Rift virtual reality headset.

ZeniMax Media is the owner of game maker Id Software — developer of games including Doom — as well as other game firms, including Bethesda Game Studios, makers of The Elder Scrolls.

The company was once the employer of Oculus CTO and one-time co-founder of Id Software John Carmack. Hired by Oculus in August and abandoning Id Software later in the year, Carmack allegedly assisted Oculus in the development of its Rift headset while still employed by ZeniMax.

The 46-page lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, says that Luckey was no more than a "college-age videogame enthusiast" working on a "primitive" headset when Carmack came along. Allegedly, Carmack helped Luckey transform the Rift headset from a primitive prototype into the product it is today while still employed by ZeniMax.

In a press release, the company says that Oculus VR and founder Palmer Luckey "illegally misappropriated ZeniMax trade secrets relating to virtual reality technology, and infringing ZeniMax copyrights and trademarks." The lawsuit states that ZeniMax employees, apparently poached by Carmack, "transformed the Rift by adding physical hardware components and developing specialised software for its operation."

This, in turn, may have led to the Rift's successful Kickstarter campaign in 2012, allowing development of the headset to continue. Oculus VR eventually piqued Facebook's interest, and in March, Facebook acquired the company in a deal worth approximately $2 billion. Facebook handed over 23.1 million shares in Facebook common stock and $400 million in cash to secure the deal, and said that "virtual reality technology is a strong candidate to emerge as the next social and communications platform."

The acquisition and popularity of the headset has propelled Luckey forward, but ZeniMax is less than impressed, stating that "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."

The publisher also says that efforts to resolve the matter outside of court have failed, and is claiming for "breach of contract, unjust enrichment, and unfair competition" in addition to alleged intellectual property theft. The company claims that "ZeniMax's intellectual property has provided the fundamental technology driving the Oculus Rift since its inception," and intellectual property was provided under a binding NDA which states such technology is owned by ZeniMax and cannot be used without approval.

On May 1, Carmack took to Twitter to tell his side of the story:

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"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."

In a statement to sister site CNET, Oculus VR retorted:

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.

Topic: Tech Industry

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  • Says it all...

    "The 46-page lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas..."

    Ah, yes... the one phrase that says it all. When an IP suit is filed in the "Northern District of Texas" you pretty much know it's bogus patent trolling.
    • Zenimax has a very good case. This has been set as precedent in law.

      Here is a legal discussion regarding inventions by university professors. Restasis being a good example of ownership of inventions.
      Any analysis of this issue requires asking whether the relationship between an employer and an employee is somehow distinct in the university-professor context from other contexts. If an employee of a company that makes mouse-traps makes a better mouse-trap in the context of
      her work, who should own the better mouse-trap? What if the invention is
      achieved through the use of the employer's resources or pre-existing
      intellectual property rights (which are not available to external parties)?
      Does the answer change? The issue here is not exclusively about inventor
      ownership but instead the context of inventorship. Even without the
      existence of written agreement, there is precedent that employers own the
      intellectual output of their employees, if resulting from performance of
      work for the employer (in some cases even beyond that context). The
      requirements of Bayh-Dole aside, there is some basic concept of payment for
      services that should not be thrown aside. Focusing on Bayh-Dole, there is a
      loose requirement to share license-related income with inventors, which is
      much better than if an employee works for a corporation where no such
      requirement exists.
  • He's a thief

    and will get his.
  • Trolls...

    If ZeniMax has had the VR technology for years presumably, where's their headset?
  • Worst Part: this isn't the first time

    Gotta feel bad for John Carmack on this. Anyone else remember when Creative Labs patented the Cormack Reverse shadow algorithm?


    It's sad when a company tries to patent ideas on projects outside the scope of their own business. Being a pre-order customer, I hope this doesn't effect the DK2 release... I really don't want to wait or be forced into using the FB edition of the product.