ZeniMax Media accused Samsung of using stolen technologies in Gear VR products built for the Oculus platform. The company said in a May 12 complaint to a U.S. District Court that Samsung "was aware, or reasonably should have been aware, that Oculus acquired its VR technology" by violating its intellectual property rights. ZeniMax said in the complaint that it's seeking damages and injunctive relief "that will fairly and fully compensate it" for Samsung's alleged usage of ZeniMax-developed technologies in the various Gear VR products that have debuted since 2015.
This is just the latest of ZeniMax's lawsuits alleging that Oculus was built on the back of its research. ZeniMax said in a 2014 lawsuit that Oculus founder Palmer Luckey and CTO John Carmack, who previously co-founded iD Software, stole trade secrets to develop the VR technologies at Oculus' core. That suit wasn't resolved until February, when a jury ordered Oculus, Luckey, and CEO Brendan Iribe to pay $500 million. But it's important to note that the jury cleared Oculus and Facebook of misappropriating trade secrets. The $500 million was awarded for breaking NDAs.
Shortly after the jury's decision, Carmack published a Facebook post taking issue with ZeniMax's expert, who he accused of "misdirection" and "selective omissions." Then, in March, he filed a lawsuit claiming that ZeniMax still owes him $22.5 million for the 2009 acquisition of iD Software. Carmack said that money hasn't been paid because of "sour grapes." Chances are good that a $500 million lawsuit is more than just "sour grapes," and ZeniMax's decision to file this suit against Samsung backs up that notion, but Carmack's complaint is tangential to the core dispute.
That dispute isn't worth repeating again, but the top level is that ZeniMax made several "breakthroughs" in VR technology back in 2012. Carmack led the company's research efforts, and he has been accused of repeatedly sharing information with Luckey before joining Oculus in 2013. According to ZeniMax's complaint against Samsung, Carmack took "thousands of ZeniMax's confidential documents and millions of lines of confidential code" with him to Oculus. That's where Samsung comes in. Here's the crux of ZeniMax's complaint, which was published by Polygon (opens in new tab):
The code and confidential documents stolen by Carmack from ZeniMax permitted Oculus to secretly develop a mobile software developer kit (“Mobile SDK”) and related software for the Samsung Gear VR. This Mobile SDK and related software — obtained and utilized by Samsung from Oculus— uses ZeniMax’s trade secrets and copyrighted code and was obtained by Oculus (and subsequently by Samsung) in violation of the contractual obligations owed by Oculus and Luckey to ZeniMax under the NDA and in violation of the contractual obligations owed by Carmack under his employment agreement with ZeniMax.
Tom's Hardware reached out to ZeniMax to confirm that the suit is legitimate, but we have not yet received a response. We also reached out to Samsung, and a company spokesperson said that "We do not comment on pending litigation." That could be a confirmation of sorts--saying you don't comment on pending litigation is like saying you don't comment on the theft of baked goods when someone asks what happened to their cookie jar--but it could also be a boilerplate response. ZeniMax has demanded a jury trial for this suit, so we'll find out soon enough.
It's clear that ZeniMax carefully decided when to follow this lawsuit. First is the fact that it follows its partial victory against Oculus, which is referenced several times in this complaint as evidence that its intellectual property was used in Oculus' products, even though the company was cleared of misappropriating trade secrets. Second is the release of new Gear VR products, including an updated headset and a new controller, in April. Both factors probably make it much easier to argue that Samsung's benefiting from ZeniMax's research on VR technologies.
ZeniMax Media is something of a gaming juggernaut. It owns iD Software, Bethesda Game Studios, Arkane Studios, Escalation Studios, and others. The disputed tech was developed by iD Software after it was bought by ZeniMax, which would make it the parent company's intellectual property.