updated 10:25 am EDT, Fri May 2, 2014
Peter Luckey signed NDA before demo of ZeniMax VR prototype
A non-disclosure agreement signed by Oculus CEO Palmer Luckey may be the key piece of evidence held by ZeniMax against the nascent VR company. Game publisher ZeniMax says the document, which appears to be a fairly standard non-disclosure agreement giving Luckey access to a virtual reality demo, entitles them to take legal action against Oculus, and the document may bolster Zenimax's intellectual property theft claims against Oculus.
Following a rough ZeniMax virtual reality prototype headset demo in June of 2012, developer Palmer Luckey founded Oculus, and started developing prototypes of what would become the Oculus Rift. A non-disclosure agreement was signed by Luckey prior to this demo.
The document has since been removed from publication at the request of the original source. Given the document, ZeniMax assumes that suggestions made to Oculus while working for ZeniMax, insight given by ZeniMax team mambers, and promotion of the VR headset are all contributions by the publisher, given programmer John Carmack's contract.
The case, and the value of the non-disclosure agreement signed by Luckey, will hinge on ZeniMax's contract with Carmack. If ZeniMax owns everything that Carmack ever worked on, even in the off-hours, then there may be a significant case against Oculus. If Carmack owns projects he worked on in off-hours, or any of his code he worked on at all, then legally, the case is much less cut-and-dried.
Carmack claimed that VR was "my toy project -- it really wasn't a sanctioned company endeavor [because] it's not at all clear how Id Software and Zenimax monetize a head-mounted display." ZeniMax seems to have changed attitude on the monetization point, given Facebook's $2 billion offer for Oculus.
Carmack himself states clearly that "Oculus uses zero lines of code that I wrote while under contract to Zenimax." Less clear is his contractual obligation to Zenimax, and how the courts will view his participation before departing the publisher.