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May 02, 2014

ZeniMax Puts Up A Legal Challenge To The Oculus Rift


It was a very big deal when Facebook laid out $2 billion to purchase Oculus VR, and not just for the sheer size of the check Facebook shelled out. This was a deal that may well have represented a fundamental change in the way gamers saw the various worlds that comprised gaming, and could well have gone beyond that. But as is so often the case in life, the road to the next generation of gaming isn't going to be utterly smooth, as a legal challenge seems to be afoot in field thanks to a name that's very familiar to some in some of the games that might work best on the Oculus Rift: ZeniMax.

ZeniMax Media put up some new claims, reportedly, as represented by a pair of letters, one sent to Facebook and the other to Oculus, saying that former ZeniMax employee, John Carmack, brought with him to Oculus some of ZeniMax's own intellectual property, a move that helped boost Oculus from comparative unknown to tech field darling. The issue reportedly starts back in 2012, when Carmack contacted Oculus' Palmer Luckey, who was at the time working with a University of Southern California research group, specifically in the field of virtual reality headsets. Luckey is said to have sent a prototype to Carmack subsequently.

Carmack is perhaps himself one of the best-known figures in the gaming field, having been one of the major names behind such virtual reality (VR)-friendly experiences as “Wolfenstein 3D” and “Doom”. ZeniMax, however, is no stranger to this market itself, having a significant stake in the VR-friendly first person shooter field with involvement in two major properties in that field, the “Elder Scrolls” series and the “Fallout” series.

This is when the legal issues apparently hit, with ZeniMax starting to seek compensation for the use of its intellectual property in the Oculus Rift as far back as August of 2012. Negotiations carried on through the rest of 2012, and ZeniMax was reportedly offered a small equity stake in Oculus VR, but no deal was actually reached. In February, meanwhile, ZeniMax turned to Carmack to disclose to the company the virtual reality-related inventions he'd developed while working at ZeniMax. That leads to the present day, where ZeniMax, on April 18, sent a letter to Oculus and Facebook lawyers saying in part “It was only through the concerted efforts of Mr. Carmack, using technology developed over many years at, and owned by, ZeniMax, that Mr. Luckey was able to transform his garage-based pipe dream into a working reality.”

Naturally, Oculus refutes these claims, with a spokesman saying “It's unfortunate, but when there's this type of transaction, people come out of the woodwork with ridiculous and absurd claims. We intend to vigorously defend Oculus and its investors to the fullest extent.”

It's hard to call the claims “ridiculous and absurd” when Oculus is said to have offered ZeniMax a share in the company itself; typically ownership stakes aren't offered to just anyone claiming to own a piece of the technology. Though it may prove difficult for ZeniMax to actually prove that Carmack did anything untoward in all this, especially considering that Carmack had a hand in developing 3D-style first person shooters years before ZeniMax was even a company. This is a tough one to get to the bottom of, particularly at this stage, and hopefully there can be a peaceable agreement reached soon, with both sides happy and the gamers able to get access to this powerful new technology.




Edited by Maurice Nagle


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