Update #2: A person who is familiar with the situation (who spoke on background) said that the Wall Street Journal's use of the term "stole" is not a term that Zenimax would use in describing John Carmack's actions leading up to this current dispute. We have adjusted the title and body of the story to reflect the situation in its proper context.
Update #1: A ZeniMax representative also passed along the company's official statement on the matter – the gist of which assets that the technology developed for the device by john Carmack belongs to the company and that Oculus founder has previously acknowledged that fact in writing. You can read it below:
"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."
John Carmack tweeted the following concerning claims that he stole the IP that powers the Oculus Rift VR headset:
"No work I have ever done has been patented. Zenimax owns the code that I wrote, but they don't own VR."
Original Story: Zenimax, parent company of id Software, has claimed it owns the software technology developed by Doom and Quake creator John Carmack while he worked at the company, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Zenimax Media is claiming rights to the software technology that powers the Oculus Rift virtual-reality headset. According to WSJ, lawyers for the company have sent two letters – one to Oculus and another to its new owner Facebook – claiming that former Zenimax employee and id Software co-founder John Carmack took Zenimax's intellectual property (that was developed at and belongs to Zenimax) with him to Oculus when he joined the company last August.
A spokesperson for Oculus offered the following response (and declined to make Carmack available for comment):
"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."
The dispute apparently goes all the way back to 2012, when Carmack (while employed by Zenimax – i.e. id Software) contacted Oculus founder Palmer Luckey, who was (at the time) working with a research group at the University of Southern California on virtual-reality headsets. Luckey sent a prototype headset to Carmack, according to a person familiar with the situation.
In June of 2012 Carmack demonstrated a modified headset at Zenimax's booth during E3. It was a prototype that consisted of "a pair of ski goggles jury-rigged with duct tape," which Zenimax claims was the template for the Oculus Rift headset. Carmack said at the time that he had created new software to transform the headset into a workable product.
Shortly thereafter Luckey founded Oculus. Later that year the company launched a highly successful Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign that managed to raise over $2.4 million.
A source speaking to WSJ claims that Zenimax began seeking compensation for the intellectual property that powered Oculus Rift in the summer of 2012. Six months of negotiating went nowhere, with Oculus finally offering Zenimax an equity stake as compensation, according to sources familiar with the situation speaking to WSJ. In the summer of last year Carmack left id Software to work for Oculus. In February of this year Zenimax asked Carmack to disclose all of the "virtual-reality inventions" he had developed while working at Zenimax. A month later Facebook bought Oculus.
Finally, on April 18 Zenimax wrote to Oculus's lawyers and Facebook's general counsel, Colin Stretch:
"It was only through the concerted efforts of Mr. Carmack, using technology developed over many years at, and owned by, Zenimax, that [Oculus founder] Mr. Luckey was able to transform his garage-based pipe dream into a working reality," reads a portion of a letter obtained by the WSJ and attributed to Zenimax.
While no one is saying that Zenimax has officially filed a lawsuit against Facebook, Oculus or John Carmack, it sure sounds like they want some compensation one way or the other…