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ZeniMax Challenging Facebook Over Oculus Technology

John Carmack's contributions are at the center of the dispute.

It's only a month and change since Facebook announced it was acquiring Oculus VR and its potentially transformative Oculus Rift device. But there's a new wrinkle: ZeniMax claims the device couldn't exist as it does today without the help of its former employee, John Carmack.

Yep, things just got weird, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal today.

Carmack used to work at the ZeniMax-owned id Software, creators of DOOM and Quake. He formally joined Oculus last summer. Carmack's been an avid fan of virtual reality, and has showed off homemade prototypes.

As ZeniMax sees it, that's the rub.

"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," reads a legal letter from ZeniMax to Facebook.

You should read The Wall Street Journal piece for the whole breakdown, but in a nutshell, ZeniMax is arguing that Carmack is directly responsible for the Oculus Rift we now see today, and those contributions were made while Carmack was still working for ZeniMax, not Oculus. As such, ZeniMax is seeking compensation for the work one of its employees made to the device, and it hasn't been happy with the offers made so far.

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Edited by HammondofTexas

Scoops Klepek!

Apparently ZeniMax is stating they've helped Luckey since 2012...... with what exactly?!

Edited by ChrisTilton

Pro tip: Never sign that thing they want you to sign that says everything you do is owned by the company you work for.

Posted by MatthewSerious

@christilton: I doubt Carmack ever did, but most of us don't have that luxury. It's either sign the BS or not have a decent job.

Posted by Fobwashed

I feel like ZeniMax would only pursue this if their contract with Carmack made it plausible to do so. There's enough money involved that may it may go beyond a settlement and make it to some kind of trial.

Posted by billymagnum

mo money mo problems

Posted by BBQBram

Is it a fair assumption that they were sitting on this plan and waiting for Oculus to get bought by a big company?

Posted by Ghost_Cat

Just concentrate on games, ZeniMax. Also, suck it.

Posted by Yorkin

DAAAMMMNN!

Posted by FalcomAdol

Pro tip: Never sign that thing they want you to sign that says everything you do is owned by the company you work for.

Companies have some a legitimate interest in the products and developments created by an employee while they're paying them. Probably now more than ever. What does "on company time" and "off the clock" mean anymore? If I'm standing in a line or waiting to pick up my car at the mechanic, I'm as likely to get a few work emails dealt with as to pay a round of 2048 or Kinectimals.

In a lot of cases, 24-hour availability on at least some limited reasonable basis is an expectation that you're implicitly being paid for (or explicitly in some cases).

That doesn't mean they should claim that they own 100% of what you create on the side, but it's really hard to write a contract that makes an allowance when people don't work set schedules and are often not required to always be in the office.

Most of the time these things don't come up because there's no significant amount of money involved. Let's get real, if Oculus didn't sell out to Facebook, ZeniMax wouldn't have come knocking on their door for money. Now there are deep pockets involved, and the lawyers start drooling like Pavlov's dogs hearing that bell ringing.

Posted by Snigs

I can see it now, the facebook deal being announced, and ZeniMax heads start asking "how can we get some money off of this?" You could probably guarantee that they wouldn't be doing this if Oculus hadn't been bought.

Posted by Rasgueado

I really dislike lawyers sometimes. First it was Notch and Scrolls, now it's this. I mean... cripes.

Posted by Viking_Funeral

I feel like ZeniMax would only pursue this if their contract with Carmack made it plausible to do so.

This is the same ZeniMax that sued Notch's Scrolls game for 'being too similar' to the name Elder Scrolls.

That, and they didn't seem to care before Facebook became involved. I think they just smell money.

Posted by Jay_Ray

I guess Zeni wasn't' good enough, they need some of that Facebook money.

Edited by Deathpooky

ZeniMax wants a cut of that Facebook money. I imagine they were fine to let Carmack go, if a little sad to lose someone of his stature, until they saw the deep pockets.

From what I recall there was that long period of time where Carmack was dividing duties and helping both companies, so this could get really messy. Most likely this is them going public with the dispute to prod Facebook into giving up more cash.

Posted by peritus

Might be true, but might just be money.

Edited by RonGalaxy

This sounds really dumb... But I guess carmack could have had a dumb contract.

Posted by Fobwashed

@fobwashed said:

I feel like ZeniMax would only pursue this if their contract with Carmack made it plausible to do so.

This is the same ZeniMax that sued Notch's Scrolls game for 'being too similar' to the name Elder Scrolls.

That, and they didn't seem to care before Facebook became involved. I think they just smell money.

That's true but even at face value, this case seems to have way more legitimacy than that scrolls thing. Which isn't really saying much considering how stupid that scrolls thing was.

Edited by ChrisHarris

@jay_ray said:

I guess Zeni wasn't' good enough, they need some of that Facebook money.

What is Facebook's currency? The Facebuck?

Posted by mordukai

What a loud of trash. Someone at Zeni smelled a quick buck. Either Facebook laughs at them takes it to court and hopes to get a judge that has some sort of common sense and laughs Zenimax out of the room or they go for the quick fix and sattle out of court.

Edited by StarvingGamer

Funny, I was just listening to something a few days ago from Tested complaining (not really complaining) about how everyone uses that picture for Rift articles and they never get proper attribution.

Posted by ArbitraryWater

I love that picture of will smith as much as I hate dumb legal conflicts.

Posted by TheTerribleFamiliar

Ha! I saw this coming when it was announced that he would be splitting his time between the two companies. The press release was very vague about his continuing role at ZeniMax. It was a disaster waiting to come home and roost and then explode with lawyers. Good times.

Edited by conmulligan

Man, that photo's never getting old.

Edited by spraynardtatum

Hey look, Oculus sold out and now there might be repercussions.

Edited by lanerobertlane

What is Facebook's currency? The Facebuck?

Bah dum tsh.

Edited by cmblasko

That's funny, I just started reading "Masters of Doom" and John Carmack dealt with pretty much the same thing during the first days of id. Carmack, John Romero and the rest of the initial id crew created Commander Keen using machines owned by their employer at the time, Softdisk. Eventually, they were caught and Softdisk threatened a lawsuit which id were able to avoid by agreeing to a partnership.

I wonder how many games that have gone on to become success stories were developed while working at a day job? Not just games in the late 80's and 90's, but modern indie games as well.

Online
Posted by pondwhale

So I suppose Zenimax is positioning itself as the defacto patent troll for this console generation. This is really disgusting stuff, especially when it's a proper corporate entity, and not some jackass with a hard-on for the word edge. I hope this receives an adequate PR backlash, my last drop of respect for the company is gone.

Edited by Tomba_be

Depending on Carmacks contract they might have a case. Weird to see an actual genius like him would have such a dumb contract but it's not impossible. But since Carmack working for Oculus has always been public knowledge and the subject of quite a few press releases. I don't think Zenimax can now claim that his work for Occulus belongs to Zenimax. If they had a problem with him working for another company, they should have acted when they were aware of the fact. Not years later.

Edited by Brendan

Uuuugh the idea that this will interrupt Cormack's productivity in any way is really annoying to me. I am fully aware of the complexities of the situation but it still sucks.

Posted by DorkyMohr

Also, consumers were getting confused by going into Best Buys and asking for "I want that thing with the Oblivion rifts!" and walking out with VR headsets.

Edited by Memu

http://www.giantbomb.com/videos/e3-2012-john-carmack-interview/2300-6164/

Posted by Gaff

@tomba_be: Just a tiny, tiny problem.

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.

Credit: http://www.engadget.com/2014/05/01/zenimax-claims-oculus-stole/

If the statement released to Engadget is to be believed, Oculus basically admitted that Carmack's work on VR was indeed Zenimax'.

Edited by GaspoweR

Wow wowowowow wow wow wow wowowow wow


Okay I took this out of the Wikipedia article on the Oculus Rift and we can have that E3 interview that Brad did with Carmack in 2012 as reference:

"During the convention, Carmack introduced a duct taped head-mounted display based on Palmer's Oculus Rift prototype, which ran Carmack's own software."

Well, I suspect this software was probably developed during his time at Zenimax. Man, this is some legal tomfoolery.

Posted by Alucitary

That is the lawyerest lawyer spin I have ever read.

Posted by Murdoc_

This is a PR battle they aren't going to win, I mean really, what a losing battle in the hearts and minds of the internet.

Posted by JasonR86

They probably have a legal point but what an asshole, coat-tail riding thing to do.

Posted by freakin9

@christilton: I doubt Carmack ever did, but most of us don't have that luxury. It's either sign the BS or not have a decent job.

Based on what? I mean... you do see this news article, correct? There's something written down in some contract Carmack signed.

Posted by KoolAid

Pro tip: Never sign that thing they want you to sign that says everything you do is owned by the company you work for.

Pretty standard practice unless you specify what it is you own. Hardly ever enforced... unless of course you sell for 2 billion or something like that.

When your name is John Carmack I would think you've been around the block a few times though and would prepare for this kind of thing by working something out? Seems strange.

Posted by crow13

I would say that Id Software and Zenimax wouldn't exsist as it does today without John Carmack. All they are putting out is remakes of his games Wolfenstien and Doom.

Edited by Nethlem

@theterriblefamiliar said:

Ha! I saw this coming when it was announced that he would be splitting his time between the two companies. The press release was very vague about his continuing role at ZeniMax. It was a disaster waiting to come home and roost and then explode with lawyers. Good times.

Indeed, too many people forget how much controversy that whole Carmack OC side-job started when it got announced back then. It's not like this is some shady "word vs word" situation where nobody really knows what happened besides the involved parties, quite the opposite: All this happened very publicly out in the open.

Still undecided if I'm Yay or Nay on all this..
Pissing off Zuckerberg is always a good thing, on the other hand ZeniMax's behavior smell's a tad bit too much like greedy patent/copyright trolling. In the end it's all a little bit like in Aliens vs Predator: Whoever wins, we lose. Because it will be us customers having to pay for all those legal fee's and settlements, in some way or another.

Posted by AlexanderSheen

@crow13 said:

I would say that Id Software and Zenimax wouldn't exsist as it does today without John Carmack. All they are putting out is remakes of his games Wolfenstien and Doom.

Except Zenimax owns Bethesda Softworks since 1999.

Posted by UncleBenny

Damn, great job Zenimax for transforming yourself into one of my least favorite companies not through bad games, but just straight up shitty behavior.

Posted by Dick_Mohawk

There is this one particular 'alleged' wrinkle.

"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."

I don't know if that makes a difference or even if it's true or not.

TBH I lost interest when Facebook got involved so I'm kind of 'meh' on the whole thing.

Posted by GaspoweR
Posted by hi_im_rob

Cal Ripken Jr gets his

Edited by MatthewSerious

@freakin9: I was being specific to the "everything you do is owned by the company" type of clause many contracts have. Carmack likely had enough sway to negotiate that type of clause to be specific to office hours. Otherwise, there might be questions of ownership of some of the Armadillo Aerospace work as well.

Posted by PurpleSpandex

Zenimax sure sounds like dicks, I imagine this will go as well for them as that silly scrolls shit they pulled.

Posted by sonicrift

Pro tip: Never sign that thing they want you to sign that says everything you do is owned by the company you work for.

Pro tip: Never work a job in a creative industry. Your local supermarket is always hiring.

Edited by Shivoa
@falcomadol said:

Companies have some a legitimate interest in the products and developments created by an employee while they're paying them. Probably now more than ever. What does "on company time" and "off the clock" mean anymore? If I'm standing in a line or waiting to pick up my car at the mechanic, I'm as likely to get a few work emails dealt with as to pay a round of 2048 or Kinectimals.

In a lot of cases, 24-hour availability on at least some limited reasonable basis is an expectation that you're implicitly being paid for (or explicitly in some cases).

That doesn't mean they should claim that they own 100% of what you create on the side, but it's really hard to write a contract that makes an allowance when people don't work set schedules and are often not required to always be in the office.

I find your ideas compelling. And with an $8/hour minimum wage (adjust for your local legal requirements) it does mean the new floor on income is going to be $8 * 24 * 365 = about $70k before tax. For all employees, because their brains are going to be generating potential value at any time of the day or night.

While most tech workers are well compensated (enough to blow a few million on funding rockets aiming for space in this case), I don't think the assumption that a company owns you if you're an employee is a given or even desirable. Did Zenimax request Carmack develop VR technology for them via his position at id? If not then any ideas he had and what he did with them, on his own time, seem completely unrelated to his employment at id.

Edit: interesting response from Carmack (basically saying they can only claim to his code and not ideas developed while working at id):

Posted by l3illyl3ob

@matthewserious said:

@freakin9: I was being specific to the "everything you do is owned by the company" type of clause many contracts have. Carmack likely had enough sway to negotiate that type of clause to be specific to office hours. Otherwise, there might be questions of ownership of some of the Armadillo Aerospace work as well.

"Everything you do that's gaming related"? Employee contracts these days are practically novels in size with a million conditions and caveats.

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