Facebook, Oculus face intellectual property challenge from ZeniMax gaming company


When news of Facebook's acquisition of Oculus in March spread, it had angered the Kickstarter backers of the virtual reality technology. With the deal yet to close, the social media giant is now facing opposition from another company.

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, ZeniMax Media Inc. is laying claim to a crucial piece of Oculus's technology -- its Oculus Rift helmet, which can be used for playing video games, watching movies or as an immersive computer monitor. At the time of the announcement, Facebook said it hoped to extend behind gaming, including education, media, entertainment and communications.

ZeniMax, a Maryland-based video game creator, reportedly sent two letters to Facebook and Oculus, saying that former employee John Carmack -- the legendary creator of "Doom" and other hit games -- had shared intellectual property with Oculus. It also claimed that the technology shared was responsible for the startup's massive growth in only two years, according to the letters reviewed by the Journal.

Citing anonymous sources, the Journal reported that in 2012, Carmack, then an employee of id software -- owned by ZeniMax Media -- had been sent a prototype headset from Palmer Luckey, who later founded Oculus. ZeniMax claims it was Carmack's software that transformed Luckey's "garage-based pipe dream into a working reality." At this time, ZeniMax began to seek compensation for intellectual property.

In August 2013, Carmack joined the startup and reportedly began splitting time between Oculus and id. He later told USA Today that after a failed attempt to bring ZeniMax's games to the virtual reality headset, he resigned in November and joined Oculus.

"ZeniMax provided necessary VR technology and other valuable assistance to Palmer Luckey and other Oculus employees in 2012 and 2013 to make the Oculus Rift a viable VR product, superior to other VR market offerings," ZeniMax said in a statement to The Verge. "The proprietary technology and know-how Mr. Carmack developed when he was a ZeniMax employee, and used by Oculus, are owned by ZeniMax."

Carmack took to Twitter to maintain his innocence against the claims.

An Oculus spokesperson told the Journal that they intended to vigorously defend Oculus and its investors.

"It's unfortunate, but when there's this type of transaction, people come out of the woodwork with ridiculous and absurd claims," he told the Journal.

Disclosure: Leslie Moonves, the CEO of CBS Corporation -- the parent company of CBS News and CBSNews.com -- is a member of ZeniMax's Board of Directors.