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Facebook is about to end a lawsuit that’s been a long-time thorn in its side. The social networking site plans to settle with competitor ConnectU for an undisclosed amount, according to the New York Times.
ConnectU’s founders — brothers Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, along with Divya Narendra — had accused Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg of stealing their idea in 2003, while they were all at Harvard. Zuckerberg helped them set up a campus dating site called Harvard Connection, and ConnectU alleged that he stalled the project while stealing ideas and code for what would eventually become Facebook. [Update: VentureBeat DigitalMedia Editor Eric Eldon doesn’t think much of the code-stealing accusation, as he explains in the comments.]
It’s important for Facebook to get this suit behind it, particularly if the company plans to make a public offering. The case brought some unflattering details about Zuckerberg to light — some of them casting doubt on his ingenuity and originality, like the disappearance of Facebook’s early code base (which was supposed to be a key part of Facebook’s defense), others just plain awkward and embarrassing, like Zuckerberg’s diary.
The Times says motions to dismiss the case should be filed “within weeks.” Facebook had also filed a suit against ConnectU alleging unfair business practices, and all the motions in that case have been terminated.
It’s hard to say whether Facebook settled because it was genuinely worried, or because it wanted to be rid of a legal nuisance. But the settlement seems to undermine Zuckerberg’s claim that the suit was completely baseless, and we have to wonder how much money is involved.
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