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ZeniMax lobs sueball at Oculus, says space cowboy Carmack rustled its code

Games maker wants slice of Facebook's fortune as compensation

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ZeniMax Media is suing virty headgear maker Oculus, claiming the start-up's CTO John Carmack is using intellectual property he developed for the games manufacturer in his new company's fancy glasses.

Zenimax owns id Software, where Carmack spent years developing such classics as Doom and Quake before starting failed rocketry business Armadillo Aerospace. ZeniMax's lawsuit claims that while in its employ, Carmack worked on a prototype Oculus headset and developed code that he took with him when he left to join the virtual-reality startup.

The gaming firm "recently sent formal notice of its legal rights to Oculus concerning its ownership of key technology used by Oculus to develop and market the Oculus Rift," it told the Washington Post, saying it would take "necessary action to protect its interests."

When Carmack left ZeniMax last year, the company claims that Oculus cofounder Palmer Luckey told it in writing that any intellectual property developed by the space cowboy belonged to his former employers.

"The proprietary technology and know-how Mr. Carmack developed when he was a ZeniMax employee, and used by Oculus, are owned by ZeniMax," Luckey is claimed to have written, along with a promise not to share any code with third-parties without ZeniMax's approval.

Since then the two companies have been arguing over how much of a stake in Oculus that the IP in question will buy ZeniMax, but the two companies have been "unable to reach a satisfactory resolution," according to the gaming giant. So it's now time to lawyer-up.

Carmack has denied on Twitter that any of the code that he wrote during his tenure at ZeniMax is being used by the high-tech specs. None of his work has ever been patented, he said, and although ZeniMax owns the code he wrote under his employment, it doesn't have any rights to claim ownership of virtual reality, and his current firm agrees.

"It's unfortunate, but when there's this type of transaction, people come out of the woodwork with ridiculous and absurd claims. We intend to vigorously defend Oculus and its investors to the fullest extent," the company said in a statement.

The timing of this is certainly interesting. Facebook splashed out $2bn for Oculus in March, and now that the KickStarter-funded startup is worth a buck or two, lawyers are starting to crawl out of the woodwork to scavenge a pound or two of flesh. ®

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