A virtual-reality hardware firm might soon find itself in an all-too-real courtroom after accusations of intellectual property theft.
Oculus, best known for its Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, has come under fire from a rival who claims the company stole the technology for the device from them. ZeniMax Media has sent letters regarding the technology in dispute to both Oculus as well as Facebook, which purchased Oculus earlier this year for $2 billion. ZeniMax is the parent company of several well-known entities in the gaming industry, most notably Bethesda Studios, best known for the Elder Scrolls series. Also under the ZeniMax umbrella is id Software, the developers of the Doom games and formerly the home of current Oculus CTO John Carmack. Carmack spent time developing virtual reality technology while employed by ZeniMax, including projects developed in conjunction with Oculus. It is ZeniMax’s assertion that Mr. Carmack took intellectual property developed during his time at the company with him to his new employer.
In its statement, ZeniMax claims that Oculus co-founder Palmer Luckey acknowledged in writing that the intellectual property developed by Carmack during his time with ZeniMax belonged to the company, and that said property would not be disclosed to any third parties without ZeniMax’s consent. Both sides had previously tried to reach an agreement whereby ZeniMax would receive equity ownership in Oculus as compensation for its technology, but the negotiations were ultimately unsuccessful.
Oculus has committed to fighting these charges, stating that they will “vigorously defend Oculus and its investors to the fullest extent.” Mr. Carmack has taken to his own defense as well, stating on Twitter:
No work I have ever done has been patented. Zenimax owns the code that I wrote, but they don't own VR.— John Carmack (@ID_AA_Carmack) May 1, 2014
It is unclear whether Facebook was aware of these claims before they began their purchase of Oculus earlier this year, or whether these developments will impede the pending acquisition. With technology moving ever forward, there are sure to be even more issues like this in the future, making responsible intellectual property (IP) management a vital skill for the nerds of tomorrow.