ZeniMax’s legal war over Oculus Rift targets Gear VR

ZeniMax, the owners of studios including Bethesda and id Software, have sent their lawyers after Samsung over the Gear VR phone cybergoggles. Following their $500 million (partial) legal victory against Rift makers Oculus, where a jury agreed that Oculus folks had broken a non-disclosure agreement with ZeniMax and infringed upon their copyright, ZeniMax are trying to halt the Rift and going after related people and businesses. Seeing as Gear VR was made in collaboration with Oculus — marketing says it’s “Powered by Oculus” — ZeniMax think Samsung are using trade ZeniMax trade secrets, and so Samsung should pay them damages and royalties.

This latest lawsuit builds on ZeniMax’s old arguments, saying that the Rift is built upon work they own. The suit alleges:

“Samsung intended to leverage and commercially exploit ZeniMax’s trade secrets for the financial benefit of its mobile phone business and in furthering its sales of the Samsung Gear VR. In furtherance of that plan, and without authorization from ZeniMax, Samsung improperly acquired access to ZeniMax’s trade secrets through its relationship with Oculus, Luckey and Carmack, and intended to leverage, commercially exploit, and otherwise use the ZeniMax trade secrets without permission, authorization or compensation to ZeniMax.”

ZeniMax say that Samsung surely would’ve known about their claim to the technology, given all the media coverage of the case, yet continued.

The path to from Rift prototypes to, eventually, the Gear VR does have one strange twist. ZeniMax allege that John Carmack let fired ZeniMax employee Matt Hooper into id Software’s offices in 2013 to chat about mobile VR – and potentially look at confidential information. They say:

“After providing Hooper access to the locked premises, Carmack left Hooper unattended, free to examine ZeniMax confidential materials, at which point Hooper went alone into offices where ZeniMax maintained and stored confidential information. Later that night, Hooper emailed his contacts at Oculus disclosing that he and Carmack formulated an “attack plan” for the mobile VR work that they would undertake together at Oculus, and which Oculus would subsequently provide to Samsung. Hooper’s presence in ZeniMax’s offices was not disclosed by Carmack and was only discovered in a review of security tapes.”

By and large, the suit follows ZeniMax’s usual story about the Rift’s creation:

“In creating the Samsung Gear VR, Carmack and Oculus used the VR code and proprietary techniques that Carmack had developed while employed at ZeniMax, and which were ZeniMax’s exclusively owned intellectual property. Carmack confirmed this in later sworn testimony, when he admitted that he merely “reimplemented” the same copyrighted code he had created while an employee of ZeniMax when he created the Oculus VR software used in the Samsung Gear VR, including an SDK designed for Samsung mobile devices (the ‘Mobile SDK’ and related software.”

ZeniMax want Samsung to pay them damages, royalties, legal fees, and so on.

If you want to pore over the full suit, Polygon uploaded a copy over here.

Meanwhile, John Carmack is suing ZeniMax over payments from when ZeniMax bought id Software. And Oculus (and Facebook) are, of course, planning to appeal that big initial ruling. ZeniMax seem to be relying on that as a foundation for future cases, so toppling it could be mighty important.

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33 Comments

  1. Eraysor says:

    Murder she waggled

  2. kud13 says:

    It’s important to note that Zenimax are not pursuing any VR tech project of their own.

    But their stream of lawsuits may have as its side-effect a significant pruning out of potential VR startups, possibly killing the idea before it can really take off.

    Now, personally, I’m not particularly interested in VR. But it’s still a sad commentary on the corporate nature and the stifling of progress…

    • Orillion says:

      Frankly the whole case should be thrown out purely on these grounds. It’s painfully obvious Zenimax had no interest in taking that risk to get the technology off the ground, but they did “own” Carmack. Now they’re prepared to wipe the technology off the face of the Earth if they can’t get “their” cut (without, mind you, actually investing any resources in it; that’d be stupid).

      Copyright law, which I must stress only might have any legitimate stake in this case, is supposed to encourage risktaking and innovation. Any time it’s plainly obvious that it’s being used to stifle innovation should be instantly thrown out.

      And, frankly, given Zenimax’s track record, they should be locked out of the courtroom for a few decades.

      Disclaimer: I don’t care one whit about the Oculus either. I just despise the way Zenimax handles… everything.

      • mattevansc3 says:

        You mean apart from all the resources they put into developing their own prototype and then supplying Occulus with the technology they developed to make the Rift work?

        Why do you think Zenimax won on both the False Designation of Origin and NDA claims

        • ResonanceCascade says:

          By “they,” you mean John Carmack and one or two other id employees who were interested in VR. When brass caught wind of it, they took a hard pass on investing in VR tech — which is the whole reason those people left id and went someplace that had an interest in VR.

          Zenimax has a right to any specific code Carmack created while employed there. They should not own the underlying principles that were used to create a different version of that code at Oculus. Unfortunately, the jury in the last lawsuit didn’t seem to understand how code works.

          I’m tired of corporations owning everything even tangentially related to something an employee did while employed there. I’d like to live in a world that has the VR but skips the rest of the corporate dystopia that usually comes along with it in fiction, thanks (it also really sucks that Facebook owns Oculus, but that’s a whole different complaint).

        • Sakkura says:

          Those claims had nothing to do with VR prototypes. It was about using the names of id games like Doom 3 BFG improperly, and a minor NDA Luckey was dumb to even sign.

          • mattevansc3 says:

            Shall we take a look at what the actual court documents say?

            “Defendant Oculus, its parents, subsidiaries, affiliates, shareholders, agents,
            representatives, employees, officers, and directors are permanently enjoined from possessing,
            publishing, disclosing, or utilizing in any form or for any purpose any of ZeniMax’s copyrighted materials (the “Copyrighted Materials”) found to have been infringed by the jury in its verdict,
            specifically DOOM 3: BFG Edition, ZeniMax VR Testbed Code, ZeniMax VR Implementation
            Code, and ZeniMax VR Implementation Code – Assets, including, without limitation, all
            computer code derived from the Copyrighted Materials or developed with reference to the
            Copyrighted Materials, all of which shall be deemed Copyrighted Materials.”

            “Defendant Oculus is permanently enjoined, on a worldwide basis, from using,
            marketing, selling, distributing, modifying, servicing, copying, or offering for sale or license any
            products, in whole or in part, that utilize in any form or for any purpose any of the Copyrighted
            Materials, including but not limited to (i) system software for Oculus PC (including the Oculus
            PC SDK); (ii) system software for Oculus Mobile (including the Oculus Mobile SDK); (iii)
            Oculus integration with the Epic Games Unreal Engine; and (iv) Oculus integration with the
            Unity Technologies Unity Game Engine.”

            link to cdn.uploadvr.com

      • Baines says:

        Copyright (along with patent) law hasn’t been about encouraging risk taking and innovation for a very long time. It is about protection, even if it (as it often does) means stifling risk taking and innovation.

        • Premium User Badge

          MajorLag says:

          Indeed. Just look at all the sequels and remakes and prequels we have for decades-old material.

          Copyright was supposed to be about building culture by offering an incentive to create works that would eventually be in the public domain (because they belonged to the culture as a whole).

          Then Disney came along and stole a bunch of public domain works and lobbied governments to grant essentially indefinite copyright periods.

    • alh_p says:

      Bah, between Zenimax’s cynical and stifling suit and tech company’s general disregard for anything broader or unrelated to “progress” (read: their profit – and facebook/occulus being pretty shitty in the real world, viz fake news & Luckies’ election meddling), I couldn’t give a crap who wins or drowns in this particular cess-pit wrestling match.

      • ResonanceCascade says:

        I can’t stand either of these companies either, but I really hate the idea that a company owns everything with even a whiff of similarity to what you did while you worked for them, so I’m rooting for Carmack and co. on this one.

        As for Zenimax and Facebook, I’d be hard pressed to even radio in a warning if I saw both of the CEO’s private jets on course to crash into each other. Them losing money is no skin off my back.

        • mattevansc3 says:

          Zenimax have never claimed that, hence why they haven’t gone after HTC, Valve, Acer, Microsoft, Sony or HP.

          • ResonanceCascade says:

            Yes, they said that Carmack stole code that he worked on while at id. And Zenimax won that particular battle in court, despite the fact that no id code was in the Oculus SDK — just code that did similar things.

  3. Rao Dao Zao says:

    The next Deus Ex game will just be a fictionalised version of this story. How many more layers of conspiracy are there to peel back?

  4. Premium User Badge

    Mungrul says:

    The monkey’s flinging shit and hoping some of it sticks.

    I really don’t like Zenimax.

  5. Ieolus says:

    Doesn’t copyright only protect the actual code written at ZeniMax? You can’t copyright an idea or thought process, and if Carmack reimplemented (aka rewrote) the code from scratch, how can that be owned by ZeniMax?

    • mattevansc3 says:

      Because he didn’t. He modified the code, not rewrote it from scratch to make it work with the Rift.

      Copyright protects the original work from modifications and derivative works so Carmack and Occulus would need Zeninax’s permission to make those changes.

    • Sakkura says:

      Their bullshit argument was “non-literal copying.” Basically where you copy something without having copied it at all. But it does roughly the same thing, so it must (apparently) be a copy, because Zenimax were obviously the first ones to think about matrix math for distorting images. Definitely hadn’t been done already in the 90s VR wave…

      • mattevansc3 says:

        Don’t forget their non-bullshit argument of literal copying, Oculus staff stating they copy and pasted Zeninax code into the Oculus SDK and written evidence of Iribe asking for a “licence for the source code Carmack shared”.

        • fish99 says:

          The phrase ‘Zenimax code’ makes it sound like Zenimax were working on VR. They weren’t. It’s Carmacks code, but he was technically still employed by Zenimax (who has just bought id), but in reality he was barely working at id anymore and planning his exit.

  6. Binky the Boojum says:

    You can patent idea’s and processes.

  7. jeremyalexander says:

    I can’t fathom how people are making Zenimax out to be the bad guys here. They wouldn’t just make this up for no reason and if they did, there is no way they would have won and be confident enough to go further with it. If anyone stole what you did, in violation of an NDA contract, you would go after them to, especially with the amount of money involved. People need to grow up and live in the real world.

    • Chaz says:

      “They wouldn’t just make this up for no reason”

      How about $500 million?

    • fish99 says:

      But Zenimax have no interest in VR and have never worked on it. This was a side project of John Carmacks while he was still technically employed at id, who Zenimax then bought. This is not something Zenimax invested in or suffered any losses through, it’s pure opportunism and cash grabbing.

      • Ich Will says:

        They were paying Carmack, though, while he wrote that code. And that man commands a hefty salary, precisely because his code is insanely valuable.

        • fish99 says:

          I know, I get that, although I also hate that if you’re a software developer who writes code on your spare time it automatically become the property of your employer. I find that ridiculous, and I understand that Carmack had permission from id to work with Oculus.

          The problem is people are spinning this story as if Zenimax are involved in the VR business and made an investment in it though, which isn’t true. To suggest they took losses to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars is pure fantasy. They were never looking to exploit any talents Carmack had in developing VR software.

          I also dislike Zenimax for the whole Scrolls/Prey thing – bullying indie devs who can’t afford to defend themselves (in the case of Prey for the Gods).

  8. mattevansc3 says:

    For those interested this article has a detailed and thorough breakdown of all the individual claims including reasons why they were awarded;
    link to roadtovr.com

  9. dangermouse76 says:

    War…war never changes.

  10. racccoon says:

    All very cool, The roll to this of course is so they can fold it all up and make a massive loss, as VR isn’t made for long play gaming, as we are not robots! we are humans!
    So zenimax who is great for doing all of this! Is going onward to further VR’s Self Destruction.

  11. MikoSquiz says:

    OK, that’s it. No buying anything published by Zenimax ever again. They’re a cancer and they need to be out of business.

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