What at first glance seemed like a minor thorn in Facebook’s legal side comes to a major turning point tomorrow in Boston, where a judge will decide whether to allow ConnectU‘s copyright infringement suit against Facebook and its founders to proceed, or instead to accept Facebook’s motion to dismiss the suit outright.
ConnectU, founded by twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss along with Harvard classmate Divya Narendra, originally filed suit in 2004, alleging that Mark Zuckerberg and his Harvard Facebook cohort more or less stole the idea and initial code from ConnectU, then called HarvardConnection, and instead launched their own site, at the time called TheFacebook. However, the suit was eventually dismissed on a technicality, and nothing much more came of it.
Since that time, it doesn’t appear that the ConnectU team continued working on their product. The ConnectU site doesn’t appear to have been updated much since 2005, and the ConnectU founders have apparently moved on to, of all things, a try for the Olympics as American rowers. Meanwhile, Facebook has grown like gangbusters, completed two rounds of venture financing, now has over 300 employees, and after posting a job listing for a stock plan administrator has been the subject of rumors of a possible future IPO or multi-billion dollar sale.
After nearly three years of apparent inactivity, ConnectU refiled its infringement case in March of this year in a Massachusetts court. Facebook, armed with an array of legal counsel, has filed to have this new suit dismissed. In tomorrow’s hearing a judge will decide whether to send the ConnectU lawyers packing or let the case proceed.
While no one except Zuckerberg and the early Facebook guys know what actually happened, I often tend to believe that the simplest explanation is usually the right one, and in this case ConnectU’s timing smells a little funny. As I mentioned to Caroline McCarthy at News.com this morning, things can get messy when informal projects by young entrepreneurs turn into real business success. In the absence of a paper trail from conception, the entrepreneurs involved are subject to a he-said-she-said where the cheapest option may be to settle. This is why getting corporate lawyers from the very beginning is generally a good rule of thumb 🙂
It’s clear that the Winklevosses and Narendra are A) pissed, and B) willing and able to bet some cash to give this lawsuit another go. We’ll find out if there’s any more to this story tomorrow.