Oculus VR sued over intellectual property theft

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

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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.