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Judge questions theft claims of Facebook rival

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A federal judge said he needed more information concerning allegations that the founder of Facebook stole software code and business plans from the creators of a rival social networking site.

US District Judge Douglas Woodlock told attorneys for ConnectU founders they needed to substantiate claims that Mark Zuckerberg misappropriated trade secrets while they were students at Harvard, according to the Associated Press. The judge repeatedly asked for specific details of a contract the plaintiffs say they entered into with Zuckerberg.

ConnectU attorney John Hornick at one point replied that Zuckerberg agreed complete work by June 2004 on software and a database for Harvard Connection, a site that was to serve students of the Ivy League college. In exchange, Zuckerberg would become one of four shareholders in the company.

Woodlock, however, demanded details related to the alleged contract, at one point saying: "Dorm room chit-chat does not make a contract."

While it's always risky to infer too much from such comments, lawyers for ConnectU aren't likely to take comfort in the Woodlock's statement, said Ian Ballon, an intellectual property attorney at Greenberg Traurig.

"That's a pretty strong comment for a judge and it suggests a certain amount of skepticism about ConnectU's claim," he said. "In order to substantiate that allegation, ConnectU has to come forward and really define what their trade secret is."

In February 2004, Zuckerberg went on to found TheFacebook.com, which eventually was renamed Facebook. Three months later, the three remaining partners started ConnectU.

With more than 30m registered users, Facebook has clearly outshone ConnectU's fewer than 100,000 subscribers, even if claims from a Facebook director that Facebook is worth more than $10bn are no more than self-serving delusions. ConnectU founders - Divya Narendra and twin brothers Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss - are seeking an order shutting down Facebook and assigning them control and profits of the site.

Woodlock went on to say: "You haven't told me anything other than there's something out there." He gave the plaintiffs until August 8 to detail their allegations. ®

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