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article imageZeniMax versus the Zuck - Oculus Rift tech rights in dispute

By George Arthur     May 1, 2014 in Technology
The hardware central to Oculus Rift — the 3D headset — is being claimed as the intellectual property of ZeniMax Media, according to a report published by the Wall Street Journal.
On March 25th, 2014 Facebook CEO and extremely rich guy Mark Zuckerberg announced what later turned out to be a $2 billion agreement with Oculus VR to purchase the virtual reality tech company.
Although the deal has yet to close, news of the pending acquisition has been met with widespread consternation over a number concerns including Facebook’s lack of experience in gaming, Oculus VR’s autonomy moving forward, and whether the two would (or will) be able to produce quality products for the community Oculus VR initially enthralled (gamers).
On May 1st, the still unconfirmed Facebook purchase hit a new roadblock, as a report by Liz Hoffman and Reed Albergotti of the Wall Street Journal indicates that ZeniMax Media is “claiming rights to the intellectual property that powers the Oculus Rift virtual-reality headset.”
Based on the assertion that current Oculus VR Chief Technology Officer John Carmack, a renowned programmer and former employee at ZeniMax, “improperly took ZeniMax's intellectual property with him to Oculus”, lawyers for ZeniMax are alleging that the headset technology so central to Oculus Rift is in fact theirs.
They point to a 2012 YouTube video where Carmack — then an employee of ZeniMax subsidiary id Software (a company Carmack founded 1991, and which was acquired by ZeniMax in 2009) — showcases an early-stage headset gaming device, and supplement their argument by detailing the relationship between Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey. In a letter sent to the involved parties on April 18th, ZeniMax stated: "It was only through the concerted efforts of Mr. Carmack, using technology developed over many years at, and owned by, ZeniMax, that Mr. Luckey was able to transform his garage-based pipe dream into a working reality."
In response, an Oculus representative wrote: "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."
While the back-and-forth between Facebook, Oculus and ZeniMax has not yet reached the point of litigation, it’s unlikely this dispute will be resolved without the courts being involved if serious compensation isn’t provided to ZeniMax. As the WSJ piece noted, Oculus and ZeniMax have been in negotiations regarding intellectual property rights since August of 2012.
With the hallmark technology behind Oculus VR at stake, it will be interesting to see how this dispute is resolved — will ZeniMax refuse anything short of rights to the headset tech, or is the company more interested in a fat cheque from the Zuck?
More about ZeniMax, Mark Zuckerberg, oculus rift, Oculus VR, John Carmack
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