John Carmack (left) poses with Oculus founder Palmer Luckey (center) and other members of the Oculus team.OculusVR
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The 2014 lawsuit filed against virtual reality headset company Oculus and its parent company Facebook has now received its first major amendment in nearly two years. The civil complaint from game publisher ZeniMax was updated on August 16 with 22 additional “paragraphs,” and those updates mince few words. Most notably, the lawsuit now names Oculus executives John Carmack and Brendan Iribe as defendants, in addition to the aforementioned companies and Oculus founder Palmer Luckey.
The updated filing, which was reported by Game Informer on Monday, still alleges that Oculus’s major VR technologies were taken from ZeniMax in a way that violated contracts and nondisclosure agreements—especially since Carmack originally worked for ZeniMax and had signed contracts that made ZeniMax the owner of any technologies he worked on within the company (specifically, at its subsidiary, id Software). Now that Iribe and Carmack are listed as defendants, ZeniMax has aimed further allegations directly at those two men—and have questioned claims that Luckey had much to do with the development of Oculus’ core technologies.
Issues with disclosure
In the last amended complaint, Zenimax simply said that “Rift’s VR Technology… had actually been developed by ZeniMax without Luckey’s involvement.” This new complaint goes much further, especially when talking about the ways Oculus bolstered its reputation en route to being acquired by Facebook for $2 billion in 2014. “Oculus needed to be able to explain how it came to own VR technology” without acknowledging any misuse of another company’s technologies, the suit now claims, and it also alleges that Iribe instructed Oculus staffers to “disseminate to the press the false and fanciful story that Luckey was the brilliant inventor of VR technology” and “had developed that technology in his parents’ garage.”
“In fact, that story was completely and utterly false,” the complaint continues. “Luckey lacked the training, expertise, resources, or know-how to create commercially viable VR technology. His computer programming skills were rudimentary, and he relied on ZeniMax’s computer program code and games to demonstrate the prototype Rift. Nevertheless, this fraudulent tale was frequently reported in the media as fact.”
The complaint also newly accuses Iribe of hiding any proof of a nondisclosure agreement between Oculus and Zenimax not only from potential outside investors but even from major Oculus staffers. One of those people, Chief Operating Officer Laird Malamed, is named as “the Oculus officer for providing Oculus’s nondisclosure agreements, contracts, and other legal documents to potential investors conducting due diligence on Oculus.” The complaint claims that Malamed did not learn about this crucial NDA, which governed the access Oculus had to proprietary Zenimax technologies, until the original lawsuit had been filed in 2014.
For his part, CTO John Carmack has been accused of wholesale theft of ZeniMax documents. The exact issue, according to ZeniMax’s updated complaint, is that Carmack “secretly and illegally copied thousands of documents containing ZeniMax’s intellectual property from his computer at ZeniMax to a USB storage device which he wrongfully took with him to Oculus.”
Additionally, ZeniMax now alleges that Carmack returned to his id Software office after officially departing the company so that he could “take without permission a customized tool that Carmack and other ZeniMax personnel had developed for work on virtual reality.”
The lawsuit’s amendments were filed in late June and unsealed in the US District Court of North Texas on August 16, but the judge presiding over the case insisted that some of its details remain sealed. Perhaps the juiciest bit of the sealed content is a blacked-out sentence, followed by: “Carmack has retained these files and he has used them for his work at Oculus.” The blacked-out text could pertain to the aforementioned “customized tool” or perhaps to the “thousands of documents” that he allegedly copied to a USB stick.
The amended complaint also adds a few Carmack-specific assertions that connect Oculus’ success to ZeniMax’s contributions to virtual reality, including the following: “Carmack has admitted that without ZeniMax, Oculus ‘wouldn’t exist as a funded company.'” And a paragraph in the updated complaint mentions both new defendants by accusing Iribe of directing Oculus employees such as Luckey to contact Carmack in order to “obtain ZeniMax’s VR technology for Oculus’s benefit.” That technology allegedly included “confidential and proprietary information,” “computer program source code,” and “design specifications.”
The updated complaint was unsealed days before the case’s updated fact-discovery deadline of August 19; Facebook had requested that delay from the US District Court in June, before ZeniMax had submitted its amended complaint. As in the original filing, ZeniMax seeks a monetary judgment against the named defendants “in an amount to be determined at trial.”
Oculus’ response to this complaint has not yet been filed in US District Court. An Oculus representative offered a statement to Game Informer, stating that “this complaint filed by ZeniMax is one-sided and conveys only ZeniMax’s interpretation of the story. We continue to believe this case has no merit, and we will address all of ZeniMax’s allegations in court.”