ConnectU suit against Facebook continues

A judge gave ConnectU two weeks to amend its copyright-infringement suit against Facebook.

A federal judge in Boston gave ConnectU Inc. a chance to amend its copyright-infringement suit against Facebook Inc. after the fast-growing social-networking company sought to have the case dismissed.

ConnectU has two weeks to amend its complaint if it chooses to do so, said John Hornick, an attorney for ConnectU, at a press conference in Boston following a Wednesday hearing. ConnectU had sought three weeks. Judge Douglas Woodlock did not make a ruling at Wednesday's hearing, he said.

"We are pleased with the outcome of the hearing today," Facebook said in a statement. "We continue to disagree with the allegations that [Facebook Founder and CEO] Mark Zuckerberg stole any ideas or code to build Facebook. We intend to honor the judge's request not to comment further in the media and will continue to vigorously defend this case in court."

ConnectU claims its founders hired Zuckerberg, then a Harvard sophomore, in 2003 to write code for Harvard Connection, a social-networking site for Harvard University students and alumni. Zuckerberg instead stole their idea and technology and launched Facebook in February 2004, they allege. Harvard Connection was renamed ConnectU and went live in May 2004 but had already lost its first-mover advantage to Facebook, according to the suit.

ConnectU sued Facebook in 2004 and refiled the suit in March after the first complaint was dismissed on a technicality, Hornick said. The suit charges Zuckerberg, along with some of his associates and Facebook, with fraud, breach of contract, misappropriation of trade secrets and other misdeeds in addition to copyright violation. In the March complaint, the company asked for all the rights to Facebook and its assets, and an injunction to stop Zuckerberg and his employees and associates from operating Facebook, among other things.

Facebook, which has had a built-in customer base among students, is one of the hottest properties in the fast-moving social networking market. It has expanded beyond requiring a valid college or high school e-mail address to admitting the general public. Earlier this month, it claimed to have 30 million active members.

Brothers Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, along with Divya Narendra, came up with the idea for Harvard Connection in 2002 while they were juniors at the university, according to the suit. They hired Zuckerberg to finish the software and database definitions in November 2003 and told him the work had to be finished quickly so they could launch the site before they graduated in June 2004. They entrusted him with the trade secrets behind Harvard Connection as part of the development team, they said. Zuckerberg quit in February 2004, saying he wasn't given a role in overall development as he had been promised, ConnectU said in the suit. He had registered the domain the previous month, they said.

ConnectU has not decided whether to amend its complaint, Hornick said. There are no active talks going on for an out-of-court settlement, he said.

The company is not seeking to shut down Facebook, and an injunction is just one option for the judge, Hornick said.

At the press conference, the Winklevoss brothers said they felt shocked and betrayed when Zuckerberg and his roommates launched Facebook. They had hired Zuckerberg to write the code for Harvard Connection because they weren't software developers. The dream was to launch the concept at Harvard and then expand it to other colleges and universities.

"If the site was successful, the four of us would share in its success," Cameron Winklevoss said.

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