Noah J Nelson on Monday, May. 5th
No one said changing the world was easy. Sure, the whole start-up scene can seem like a fun time from the outside, but that only means that the PR departments are doing their jobs.
When you have ambitions the way the people at Oculus VR have ambitions, you can find yourself riding the highs and lows at motion-sickness inducing speeds.
Let’s start with the good news: the US Patent Office has granted Oculus VR a patent on “the ornamental design of a virtual reality headset” (#USOD701,206). Meanwhile CEO Brendan Iribe (one of the people listed on the patent) told the audience at the latest TechCrunch Disrupt NY conference that Oculus is launching a research group that will be working on advancing virtual reality:
“There [sic] are starting to recruit very talented engineers,” Iribe said. “And they will engage with universities and work with students.”
The company will also sponsor hackathons and get engineers excited about the Oculus Rift. In other words, Oculus VR plans to crowdsource virtual reality use cases.
Of course, one could wonder what this announcement means about the timetable for a commercial version of the Oculus Rift. Or it the research group is aimed at further iterations of the underlying technology.
Underlying technology that the former employer of one of Oculus’ superstars is laying claim to.
Polygon is reporting that legendary programmer Jon Carmack left his old job at id Software to work full time at Oculus after his bosses at parent company ZeniMax refused to let him work on VR support for Doom 3. The apparent reasoning: they wanted a stake in Oculus. This is where the real bad news for Oculus VR is: ZeniMax has put their lawyers on Oculus claiming that Carmack brought over proprietary technology.
Carmack has gone on record saying that no ZeniMax code is in the Oculus code, and Oculus has pointed to their open source code and asserted that ZeniMax had laid no serious claim until the Facebook acquisition deal for Oculus was made public. There’s some “he said/she said” devolution in all that, but the sticking point will be Carmack’s contracts.
The crazy truth about tech is that some employee contracts basically sign away all their brain children to the people who foot their bills. Why such a thing is even remotely legal is answerable only by the good folks at Wolfram & Heart, masters of the eldritch ways of contract negotiations. The tl;dr? ZeniMax just might own anything that was in John Carmack’s brain while he was drawing a paycheck from them, and that might give ZeniMax rights.
Remember kids: feudalism is dead. Just in case you were getting any funny ideas there, Littlefinger.