SUPER SMASH BROS VR EDITION: An Update on ZeniMax v. Oculus

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The legal battle between two heavyweights over the Oculus Rift continues between ZeniMax Media and id Software, in one corner, and Oculus and Facebook, in the other.  In a court filing this week, the two sides reportedly failed to reach a resolution in a recent court-ordered mediation.

The lawsuit also made headlines in December 2015 when Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, was ordered to sit for a deposition in the case.

If you’ve been living under a rock for the past two years, I’ve provided a summary below.  (I also recommend reading the complaint, a lengthy, but fascinating read for those interested in the VR industry.)

In May 2014, ZeniMax Media, parent company of id Software and Bethesda Softworks, filed suit in a federal court in Texas, asserting claims of trade secret misappropriation, copyright infringement, breach of contract, unfair competition, unjust enrichment, trademark infringement and false designation against Oculus and Palmer Luckey.  (Zenimax has since amended its complaint to add Facebook and John Carmack as defendants.)

In its complaint, ZeniMax alleged that, in 2012, Luckey approached John Carmack (then, an iD software employee) about a Rift prototype, which Carmack offered to help improve.  Subsequently, Carmack and other ZeniMax employees allegedly “transformed” the Rift prototype by adding positional tracking, reducing latency and making other significant improvements.  (According to Facebook, the improvements to the Rift amounted to “hot-gluing” a motion sensor previously purchased from Hillcrest, “placing tape on the outside edges of the lenses, attaching a strap, and plugging the headset into an external power source.”)

Before revealing the improved Rift prototype — and at ZeniMax’s request — Luckey executed an NDA, which stated that ZeniMax would retain exclusive ownership of the IP disclosed under the agreement.  (Facebook has since denied that the NDA is valid or enforceable.)  Carmack later demonstrated the enhanced Rift prototype at E3 in 2012, which resulted in significant attention and acclaim regarding the HMD.

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After a successful E3, Luckey and Oculus allegedly continued to seek out Carmack’s expertise, but ignored ZeniMax’s overtures regarding compensation for its IP. Moreover, Oculus and Luckey allegedly demonstrated the Rift prototype using ZeniMax’s properties (Doom 3: BFG Edition and RAGE) against ZeniMax’s wishes.  In addition, Oculus later solicited and hired away several ZeniMax employees, including Carmack, who became CTO of Oculus.  According to ZeniMax, Oculus has never paid a dime to Zenimax.

In March 2014, Facebook announced that it would acquire Oculus for $2 billion in cash and stock.  Two months later, Zenimax filed its lawsuit.

Perhaps on a related note, earlier this year at E3, Bethesda, ZeniMax’s subsidiary, announced that it was developing virtual reality versions of its blockbuster AAA titles, Fallout 4 and Doom, which, unsurprisingly, would be released on the HTC Vive.

The jury trial in the ZeniMax v. Oculus case is scheduled to begin on Monday, January 9, 2017.

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