Oculus Rift Lawsuit Escalates with Accusation John Carmack Stole Tech

ZeniMax has updated their intellectual property lawsuit against Oculus Rift to explicitly accuse legendary developer John Carmack of theft.

In a legal tug-of-war that began in March of 2014, ZeniMax Media Inc. has fought to reclaim the rights to virtual reality technology that they allege is rightfully theirs. Originally, they stated that “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 that “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.”

Oculus has called the lawsuit a “misleading” and “unjust” attempt to recover a “missed opportunity.” According to their statements:

Zenimax knows Luckey invented the Rift and the technology powering it. Zenimax knows that Carmack, the senior technical Zenimax employee communicating with Luckey, and the only Zenimax employee working on virtual reality gaming technology, has unequivocally and consistently stated that Luckey invented and developed the Rift.

But now they’ve been given something else to chew on, as ZeniMax has dialed up the aggression on their accusations. In an amended complaint to the court, they now very clearly describe the supposed theft of their technology by John Carmack, a famed game creator and former employee of ZeniMax, now working for Oculus:

Instead of complying with his contract, during his last days at ZeniMax, he copied thousands of documents from a computer at ZeniMax to a USB storage device. He never returned those files or all copies of them after his employment with ZeniMax was terminated. In addition, after Carmack’s employment with ZeniMax was terminated, he returned to ZeniMax’s premises to take a customized tool for developing VR Technology belonging to ZeniMax that itself is part of ZeniMax’s VR technology.

Additionally, the amended complaint asserts that Palmer Luckey has taken credit for work in which he was no way involved. According to the complaint, Luckey “increasingly held himself out to the media and the public as the visionary developer of the Rift’s VR Technology, which had actually been developed by ZeniMax without Luckey’s involvement.”

ZeniMax also accused Luckey, Oculus, and Facebook — who acquired Oculus for $2 billion in July 2014 — of knowingly violating a prior Non-Disclosure Agreement made with Luckey regarding the technology. ZeniMax believes that Oculus, and by extension Facebook, are bound by the NDA but failed to abide by its terms.

So what does all this mean? In a nutshell, it means that the most prominent VR device in the world will be Exhibit A in a trial that could have nine-figure repercussions. The court will have to decide whether Carmack’s work was stolen from ZeniMax when he left the company, or whether he simply brought his personal knowledge and experience to Luckey’s team. It means that Facebook could be liable, and that after a cool $2 billion, they could end up empty-handed.

It’s also a pretty clear statement that ZeniMax can see the sheer mass of money on the horizon from the development of VR technology and will fight tooth and nail to make sure it has a piece of that pie.

Follow Nate Church @Get2Church on Twitter for the latest news in gaming and technology, and snarky opinions on both.


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