UPDATE #3 05/05/2014: Oculus has issued the following statement defending itself against Zenimax's accusation of intellectual property theft:
"We are disappointed but not surprised by Zenimax's actions and we will prove that all of its claims are false. In the meantime, we would like to clarify a few key points:"
"There is not a line of Zenimax code or any of its technology in any Oculus products."
"John Carmack did not take any intellectual property from Zenimax."
"Zenimax has misstated the purposes and language of the Zenimax non-disclosure agreement that Palmer Luckey signed."
"A key reason that John permanently left Zenimax in August of 2013 was that Zenimax prevented John from working on VR, and stopped investing in VR games across the company."
"Zenimax canceled VR support for Doom 3 BFG when Oculus refused Zenimax's demands for a non-dilutable equity stake in Oculus."
"Zenimax did not pursue claims against Oculus for IP or technology, Zenimax has never contributed any IP or technology to Oculus, and only after the Facebook deal was announced has Zenimax now made these claims through its lawyers."
"Despite the fact that the full source code for the Oculus SDK is available online, Zenimax has never identified any 'stolen' code or technology."
UPDATE #2 01/05/2014 8.44pm: John Carmack has issued the following tweet on the matter:
"No work I have ever done has been patented. Zenimax owns the code that I wrote, but they don't own VR."
We like to imagine he then dropped a mic and walked off.
ORIGINAL STORY 01/05/2014 5.26pm: Doom developer id Software's parent company, Zenimax Media, is claiming that studio co-founder John Carmack stole "key technology" from id when he left the company to work at Oculus VR full-time.
"ZeniMax confirms it 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. ZeniMax's technology may not be licensed, transferred or sold without ZeniMax Media's approval", began a statement by Zenimax obtained by Endgadget. "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."
The statement further noted that Oculus founder Palmer Lucky agreed, in writing, that Zenimax owned some intellectual property now being used by the VR company. "The proprietary technology and know-how Mr. Carmack developed when he was a ZeniMax employee, and used by Oculus, are owned by ZeniMax. Well before the Facebook transaction was announced, Mr. Luckey acknowledged in writing ZeniMax's legal ownership of this intellectual property."
"It was further agreed that Mr. Luckey would not disclose this technology to third persons without approval. Oculus has used and exploited ZeniMax's technology and intellectual property without authorisation, compensation or credit to ZeniMax. ZeniMax and Oculus previously attempted to reach an agreement whereby ZeniMax would be compensated for its intellectual property through equity ownership in Oculus but were unable to reach a satisfactory resolution. ZeniMax believes it is necessary to address these matters now and will take the necessary action to protect its interests."
Yikes! Zenimax is proper pissed about this, but Oculus doesn't think Bethesda's parent company has a leg to stand on. In a statement obtained by the Wall Street Journal, Oculus responded: "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."
Of course, Oculus did just sell its company for $2 billion, making the timing of this legal threat suspect, but John Carmack was working at both companies for a time so it's not entirely clear what breakthroughs were developed where on whose payroll.