ZeniMax asserted last week that it owns the rights to "key technology used by Oculus to develop and market the Oculus Rift" by way of "extensive VR research and development works done over a number of years by John Carmack while a ZeniMax employee, and others." The company said that it provided that technology to Oculus in 2012 and 2013 and that Oculus co-founder Palmer Luckey "acknowledged in writing ZeniMax's legal ownership of this intellectual property."
That "in writing" part was disclosed by a newly leaked non-disclosure agreement (PDF) that appears to be signed by the Oculus founder (thanks Ars Technica). The document lay the legal terms for discussion and sharing between the companies and also establishes ZeniMax's continued ownership of "files, letters, memoranda, reports, records, data, sketches, drawings, notebooks, program listings, or other written, photographic, or other tangible, intangible, or other materials" that might be disclosed under the agreement.
The NDA does not go into any detail "what was discussed between the companies" and if ZeniMax ended up contributing to the Rift hardware. There was also some discussion about a version of Doom 3: BFG Edition that supported the Rift headset. It's likely that this NDA is for that project.
But Oculus was quick to respond the leaked disclosure of the NDA and ZeniMax's previous statements:
"We are disappointed but not surprised by ZeniMax’s actions and we will prove that all of its claims are false,” an Oculus rep said in a lengthy statement to Gamasutra this morning. The rep. went on to say address specific claims made by ZeniMax’s lawyers:
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.
Zenimax canceled VR support for Doom 3 BFG when Oculus refused ZeniMax’s demands for a non-dilutable equity stake in Oculus.
Zenimax did not pursue claims against Oculus for IP or technology, Zenimax has never contributed any IP or technology to Oculus, and only after the Facebook deal was announced has Zenimax now made these claims through its lawyers.
Despite the fact that the full source code for the Oculus SDK is available online (developer.oculusvr.com), Zenimax has never identified any ‘stolen’ code or technology.
We will continue to follow this story as it develops.