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Quake developer John Carmack’s breakup with Zenimax might end in court.

Id Software, the company responsible for classic shooters Doom and Quake, and its parent company, Zenimax Media, are accusing Carmack of inappropriately taking intellectual property (as first reported by The Wall Street Journal via Engadget). The storied engineer joined virtual-reality startup Oculus VR in August, and Zenimax is claiming that Oculus is using technology that Carmack developed during his long career with id. Zenimax also claims that Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey, creator of the groundbreaking virtual-reality headset, acknowledged in writing that he was only able to make the device work through the use of Zenimax-owned technologies.

While Carmack currently works for Oculus VR, the technologies that he invented or worked on while an employee of Zenimax belong to that company, according to Zenimax’s lawyers.

Facebook is in the process of acquiring Oculus VR for $2 billion, and the virtual-reality company believes that money is what’s prompting Zenimax to come asking for royalties.


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“It’s unfortunate, but when there’s this type of transaction, people come out of the woodwork with ridiculous and absurd claims,” a spokesperson for Oculus VR said in a statement provided to GamesBeat. “We intend to vigorously defend Oculus and its investors to the fullest extent.”

Zenimax provided the following statement to GamesBeat:

ZeniMax confirms it recently sent formal notice of its legal rights to Oculus concerning its ownership of key technology used by Oculus to develop and market the Oculus Rift. ZeniMax’s technology may not be licensed, transferred or sold without ZeniMax Media’s approval. 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 others.

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. The proprietary technology and know-how Mr. Carmack developed when he was a ZeniMax employee, and used by Oculus, are owned by ZeniMax. Well before the Facebook transaction was announced, Mr. Luckey acknowledged in writing ZeniMax’s legal ownership of this intellectual property. It was further agreed that Mr. Luckey would not disclose this technology to third persons without approval.

Oculus has used and exploited ZeniMax’s technology and intellectual property without authorization, compensation or credit to ZeniMax. ZeniMax and Oculus previously attempted to reach an agreement whereby ZeniMax would be compensated for its intellectual property through equity ownership in Oculus but were unable to reach a satisfactory resolution. ZeniMax believes it is necessary to address these matters now and will take the necessary action to protect its interests.

While Carmack did provide key technology for the Oculus Rift, the developer provided it openly to Luckey for free. This was while Luckey was developing the technology at the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies.

Zenimax says that it conducted discussions with Oculus VR about compensation for the technology, but the publisher claims those talks did not “reach a satisfactory resolution,” according to a Zenimax statement provided to Engadget.

Oculus VR is one of the hottest tech companies right now, and Carmack appeared to depart amicably from id in November after a few months as chief technology officer of the startup. Oculus made headlines in March when Facebook acquired it for $2 billion.

When the social network bought Oculus, Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg explained he wanted a chance to get in on the ground floor of the next major computing platform, which he believes is virtual reality.

Oculus VR could release a consumer version of its Rift headset later this year. The device affixes to players heads and tracks their motion to create the sensation that a player is really looking around a virtual world. The technology is notable both for its sophistication and its relatively inexpensive price. Oculus VR is currently selling the latest development kit for $350.

The Rift headset was also one of the first major successes on the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter. The company set out with a $250,000 goal, but its 9,522 backers ended up pledging over $2.4 million.

The Engadget Interview: Oculus Rift's John Carmack

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