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ConnectU Needs a Better Facebook Story

In its copyright infringement suit against Facebook, social network ConnectU has two weeks to come back with a better case.

That was the gist of Judge Woodlock's comments yesterday after hearing Facebook's motion to dismiss the suit in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts.

In a statement e-mailed to internetnews.com, Facebook spokeswoman Brandee Barker said, "We are pleased with the outcome of the hearing today. We continue to disagree with the allegations that Mark Zuckerberg stole any ideas or code to build Facebook."

John Hornick, counsel for ConnectU, also characterized Judge Woodlock's comments as a positive development.

"The case goes on. The court gave ConnectU an opportunity to amend the complaint and add more facts," Hornick said on a conference call held for the press.

ConnectU is suing Facebook and its founders, including CEO Mark Zuckerberg, for copyright infringement, breach of contract, misappropriation of trade secrets, breach of fiduciary duty, unjust enrichment, unfair business practices, intentional interference with prospective business advantage, breach of duty of good faith and fair dealing, and fraud.

Those claims stem from what ConnectU founders Cameron Winklevoss, Tyler Winklevoss and Divya Narenda in a copy of the complaint describe as a business arrangement wherein Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, then a Harvard student, would develop a "Harvard Connection Code" for a Harvard alumni and student social network.

But instead of working to complete the code, the ConnectU founders say Zuckerberg stole it, registered the domain theFacebook.com and soon after announced his own social network for Harvard students.

Zuckerberg, the plaintiffs allege, was entrusted with descriptions of the ConnectU business model, content concepts, and the type of information that would be collected from users. For stealing this information as well as the "Harvard Connection Code," the plaintiffs seek punitive damages from Facebook and the possible suspension of its operations.

Ian C. Ballon, an intellectual property attorney in the Silicon Valley office of Greenberg Traurig LLP, told internetnews.com Judge Woodlock's comments suggest ConnectU needs to gather more facts to make their case. That might be a challenge, Ballon said, "It is easy to allege a contract or a trade secret, but much harder to prove it.

Ballon is generally skeptical about ConnectU's case.

"It is often the case that when a new business model is successful others come forward claiming that they had created it," Ballon said.

ConnectU has two weeks to amend its complaint before Judge Woodlock once again considers Facebook's motion to dismiss.