Anyone who has a passion for technology and video games has surely had their eye on the Oculus Rift for some time now. The Oculus Rift is a virtual reality technology that immerses the user in what is considered the most interactive experience that video games can offer. Just recently, Facebook paid $2 billion dollars to acquire Oculus. Whether or not I agree with the buyout decision is not the topic of this blog post (though I could surely go on about that for quite a while). What is interesting is now that Facebook has acquired Oculus and the Rift, Zenimax has filed lawsuits claiming that Intellectual Property that it owns is being used in the Oculus Rift.
First some background information. The Chief Technology Officer of Oculus, John Carmack, was a previous employee of Zenimax and was part of a team that was working on virtual reality products that Zenimax was testing. While at Zenimax, Carmack started working at Oculus, and Zenimax allowed it as long as Carmack and the founder of Oculus, Palmer Luckey, signed a nondisclosure agreement stating that “Nothing in this agreement is intended or shall be construed as a transfer, grant, license, release, or waiver of any intellectual property rights in any proprietary information”. Carmack helped Luckey with the project at Oculus, and after Zenimax decided to pull Carmack off of their virtual reality projects, Carmack left Zenimax and went to work at Oculus on the Rift.
It is understandable why Zenimax is suing Oculus Rift. Carmack was working for hire while at Zenimax, so for them to have concerns that some of their intellectual property was used in the Oculus Rift is understandable. However, I feel that Zenimax made some flat out stupid decisions throughout the process. One, they should not have let Carmack work with Luckey on technology similar to what they were trying to develop, and two, they should not have pulled Carmack from their virtual reality projects. It’s clear that Carmack has a strong interest in virtual reality, so I’m not entirely sure what Zenimax was expecting when they pulled him off of their virtual reality projects AFTER he had already been working with Luckey.
Oculus is denying all of the claims that Zenimax is making against them, as they should be. They are stating that this kind of publicity is to be expected with huge announcements as such, and that they will do everything they can to protect their interests and their investors. Carmack is also being vocal, essentially saying that Zenimax is making claims from nowhere. As Carmack put it “No work I have ever done has been patented. Zenimax owns the code that I wrote, but they don’t own VR”. It is with this principle that Oculus has a strong defense and will most likely be able to protect the Oculus Rift.
In terms of whether or not Carmack has used any of the intellectual property that Zenimax owns, I don’t know. Chances are, it will probably be hard to prove considering how large of a system the Oculus Rift is. Even if they can get it through to the courts to have the source code of the Oculus Rift compared with intellectual property, it will still not likely be enough unless they find actual code claiming to be owned by Zenimax. However, it is likely that the know-how and idea of how to make a working virtual reality technology can be partly credited to Carmacks’ time at Zenimax. As Carmack put it, “No work I have ever done has been patented. Zenimax owns the code that I wrote, but they don’t own VR”. Unfortunately for Zenimax, there is nothing they can do about protecting ideas that anyone can devise with enough know how. Overall, I feel that Zenimax essentially shattered the glass on this one, and are trying to pick up the pieces.
Arce, Nicole. “Virtual Reality Nightmare: ZeniMax Challenges Facebook, Oculus for Rift Intellectual Property.” Tech Times RSS. Tech times, 5 May 2014. Web. 14 May 2014.
Johnson, Eric. “Oculus Allegedly Broke Intellectual Property Agreement with ZeniMax.” Recode. Recode, 1 May 2014. Web. 14 May 2014.