oculus rift headset
May 6, 2014

Oculus Responds To Allegations It Stole VR Technology

Peter Suciu for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

Last week reports circulated that Oculus VR's chief technology officer John Carmack had been accused by a former employer of stealing intellectual property - including technology that allowed Oculus VR to develop its virtual reality platform. This comes just a month after social media giant Facebook announced it would pay $2 billion for the startup, which launched via a Kickstarter crowd-funded campaign last year.

The story picked up steam late last week when the Wall Street Journal reported that ZeniMax Media Inc., a Maryland-based maker of videogames claimed rights to intellectual property that reportedly powers the Oculus Rift virtual-reality headset. This technology can be used to watch movies, play games and even double as a computer monitor.

ZeniMax had reportedly contacted both Oculus and Facebook and accused Carmack of improperly sharing the VR technology - before and after he joined the latter company last August.

Carmack is best known for his work in the video game industry, where he essentially helped create the first-person shooter genre through such games as "Wolfenstein 3D" and "Doom."

"It's unfortunate, but when there's this type of transaction, people come out of the woodwork with ridiculous and absurd claims," an Oculus spokesperson told the paper. "We intend to vigorously defend Oculus and its investors to the fullest extent."

In a statement supplied to the media, and posted on Slashgear on Monday, the VR technology firm further defended Mr. Carmack and refuted the allegations:

There is not a line of Zenimax code or any of its technology in any Oculus products.

John Carmack did not take any intellectual property from Zenimax.

Zenimax has misstated the purposes and language of the Zenimax non-disclosure agreement that Palmer Luckey signed.

A key reason that John permanently left Zenimax in August of 2013 was that Zenimax prevented John from working on VR, and stopped investing in VR games across the company.

This is hardly the first time that a company has accused another of stealing its technology. In the high-tech sector this is practically par for the course in daily operations industry insiders have noted.

"It is possible that Carmack stole the technology, or it may not be," said independent video game and social media analyst Billy Pidgeon, "This will of course come out when - and more importantly if - it goes to trial. There is certainly a realm of possibility that this happened. Things like this happen all the time; sometimes it is true, sometimes it is not."

The timing of these new allegations is also noteworthy. The WSJ reported that the dispute could be traced back to early 2012 when Carmack was still a ZeniMax programmer and was contacted by Palmer Luckey, who at the time was experimenting with VR headsets. ZeniMax has alleged that Carmack was sent a prototype headset, which was demonstrated at ZeniMax's booth at the Electronic Entertainment Trade Show in Los Angeles.

Luckey reportedly used the modifications made by Carmack to launch his company via Kickstarter. Since August 2012 the two companies have conducted negotiations - which included Oculus offering ZeniMax an equity stake - but no deal was reached. Then last summer Carmack, along with five other ZeniMax employees joined Oculus.

The big twist in all this came in late March when Mark Zuckerberg announced Facebook's deal to buy Oculus. The question of course becomes what happens next.

"If they settle out of court we won't know what really went down," Pidgeon told redOrbit. "It won't be a matter of record. As to who is to blame, I'd really need to see the evidence before I could make an educated guess. However, we should have expected fireworks out of this deal.

"This thing started as a Kickstarter campaign and this is thing just took off with a life of its own," Pidgeon added.