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So This Is Happening: Zenimax Sues Oculus

Given the way things have been going, I suppose this was basically inevitable. In the wake of some very serious John Carmack hardware-related allegations from ZeniMax, the Elder Scrolls, Fallout, and Wolfenstein publisher has dropped a megaton legal bomb. It’s suing virtual reality kingpin (and recent Facebook acquisition) Oculus Rift for “illegally misappropriating ZeniMax trade secrets relating to virtual reality technology, and infringing ZeniMax copyrights and trademarks.” Oculus, meanwhile, continues to claim ZeniMax’s claims are entirely without merit. Claim claim claim clamber clams. Now there’s an idea. Instead of duking it out in a legal cagefight, maybe everyone should just sit down around a nice, fresh plate of clams. Talk things out nice and civil-like while loudly slurping the precious flesh meats of a lowly sea creature.

But no, this is probably gonna be terrible.

Here’s ZeniMax’s announcement, which is about as cut-and-dry as they come on these sorts of matters:

“ZeniMax Media Inc. and its subsidiary, id Software LLC, filed suit today against Oculus VR, Inc. and its founder, Palmer Luckey, for illegally misappropriating ZeniMax trade secrets relating to virtual reality technology, and infringing ZeniMax copyrights and trademarks. ZeniMax is also asserting claims for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, and unfair competition against the defendants. The suit was filed in federal court in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas.”

“The suit arises from the defendants’ unlawful exploitation of intellectual property, including trade secrets, copyrighted computer code, and technical know-how relating to virtual reality technology that was developed by ZeniMax after years of research and investment. ZeniMax provided this valuable intellectual property to defendants under a binding Non-Disclosure Agreement that specifies such intellectual property is owned exclusively by ZeniMax and cannot be used, disclosed, or transferred to third parties without ZeniMax’s approval. ZeniMax’s intellectual property has provided the fundamental technology driving the Oculus Rift since its inception. Nevertheless, the defendants refused all requests from ZeniMax for reasonable compensation and continue to use ZeniMax’s intellectual property without authorization.”

“All efforts by ZeniMax to resolve this matter amicably have been unsuccessful. Oculus has recently issued a public statement remarkably claiming that ‘ZeniMax has never contributed IP or technology to Oculus.’ Meanwhile, Luckey has held himself out to the public as the visionary developer of virtual reality technology, when in fact the key technology Luckey used to establish Oculus was developed by ZeniMax.”

Yikes. That last paragraph, especially – those are some fighting words followed by a dismissive gob of tobacco-tarred saliva bullet-spat into a bucket. “Ding!” it sounds, both beginning the fight and mixing my metaphors.

ZeniMax also sent over its court documents, which paint a picture of a timeline in which John Carmack became interested in the Rift pre-Kickstarter, and he and other ZeniMax employees provided important technical information to Palmer Luckey both before and after the crowdfunding drive. ZeniMax also apparently modified the Rift in the lead up to the release of Doom 3: BFG Edition, which, ZeniMax claims, “represented an enormous technical advance in the development of virtual reality entertainment.”

Apparently Oculus and ZeniMax spent 2012 and 2013 discussing how Oculus would compensate ZeniMax for the modified VR tech, but then Oculus found financial backing and talks with ZeniMax ceased.

ZeniMax also takes credit for the popularity of the Rift by way of showcases at events like E3, which it arranged and promoted. By ZeniMax’s logic, then, the Rift is an intellectual property “that ZeniMax had created, and that [Oculus] had taken.” Because I guess providing aid now means you were wholly and individually responsible for something. Business is really confusing, you guys. And infuriating.

In response, Oculus issued a statement of complete denial. “The lawsuit filed by ZeniMax has no merit whatsoever. As we have previously said, ZeniMax did not contribute to any Oculus technology. Oculus will defend these claims vigorously.”

So that’s it, then. To court everyone goes. Or maybe they’ll settle it out of court at the last second, but something’s got to give. So far, neither side is letting the other have an inch, let alone a mile, so I don’t expect this to go down without things getting messy.

And while Oculus claims ZeniMax is blathering on about nothing, I highly doubt it’d willfully play David vs Goliath (or really, Goliath vs Significantly Bigger Goliath) against Facebook without some sort of ace up its sleeve. But when two companies that – regardless of policies and reputation – make great stuff come to blows, it’s tough to say anybody wins. Here’s hoping this resolves quickly.

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Nathan Grayson

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