Virtual reality headset manufacturer Oculus is being sued by publisher, ZeniMax Media.
The company claims that its intellectual property, as well as the expertise of several employees, was used to develop the Oculus Rift headset, which was successfully crowd-funded on the Kickstarer site in 2012.
The 46-page lawsuit, filed in Texas on Wednesday, asserts that Oculus founder Palmer Luckey was just a "college-age video-game enthusiast" working on a "primitive virtual reality headset"when he sought the help of ZeniMax employee John Carmack, one of the co-creators of Doom and widely considered to be one of the greatest programmers in the industry. Carmack was still working for ZeniMax subsidairy Id Software at the time, but allegedly started to provide vital technical assistance. The lawsuit also alleges that ZeniMax employees "literally transformed the Rift by adding physical hardware components and developing specialised software for its operation."
However, after the hugely successful unveiling of the Oculus Rift headset at the E3 video game exhibition in June 2012, ZeniMax claimed that Oculus ignored dozens of attempts to formalise the relationship between the two companies – it also claims that Oculus breached non-disclousre agreements by publicising its technology without permission. In 2013, John Carmack left Id Software to take up a position as chief technology officer at Oculus; ZeniMax claims he took ZeniMax IP with him, and that he poached several members of staff.
The lawsuit concludes weeks of wrangling between the two companies. ZeniMax first claimed at the end of April that Carmack had taken ZeniMax technology, with the Wall Street Journal reporting on legal letters passing between the companies (subscription required). Oculus quickly denied that it had stolen ZeniMax IP or that any specific technologies developed by ZeniMax were used in the Rift headset. In an email sent out to news sources, Oculus called the accusations "disappointing" and claimed that no ZenMax intellectual property, code or technology was used in the development of Rift.
The lawsuit is likely to have been instigated in repsonse to Facebook's $2bn purchase of Oculus in March. The social media company has said that it will allow the VR specialist to operate with autonomy, but it is likely the company's immersive VR technology will find its way into future social networking plans. Oculus has so far sold around 100,000 developer versions of its Rift headset and plans a consumer launch later this year. The headset features a high-definition screen and motion trackers, allowing PC users to immerse themselves fully into game environments. Dozens of games already have Oculus Rift compatibility, including Id Software's Doom3.
In a statement to US game site Kotaku, Oculus has once again defended itself against the accusations: "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."
Certainly there are questions ZeniMax will be required to answer. The Lawsuit states that the company, "invested tens of millions of dollars in research and development, including research into virtual reality and immersive technologies". It also highlights the "crude" state of Luckey's original prototype, which was allegedly provided with "enormous technical advances" by ZeniMax technicians. In which case, the company may be asked why it did not develop and launch its own VR headset, without the assistence of a university student from Southern California.
The lawsuit document can be viewed below:
Many industry insiders feel that virtual reality could be the next big consumer electronics trend. Sony is also developer a VR technology, codenamed Project Morpheus for the PlayStation 4 and Microsoft is rumoured to be
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