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Harvard rivals claim smoking gun in Facebook 'code theft' case

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The founders of ConnectU, an also-ran social network that emerged from Harvard University around the same time as Facebook, are renewing their charge that Mark Zuckerberg stole their ideas, amid claims of new "smoking gun" instant messenger evidence.

ConnectU was founded by twins Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, contemporaries of Zuckerberg who employed him to do some coding on their site before he ran off to create Facebook.

The warring rich Ivy League white guys had reached a settlement in April, but on Tuesday ConnectU told a federal court in Boston that it wants out of the deal. A recent forensic search of Facebook's hard drives turned up IM logs that it reckons would prove its case, Bloomberg reports.

Judge Douglas Woodlock was unsympathetic to the change of heart. He said: "The parties chose to do what they did [to settle the case] based on imperfect knowledge of what the outcome of the case might be. You knew at the time you entered into the agreement it wasn't complete."

ConnectU's attorney John Hornick said: "If we are forced into a settlement, the next step is going to be a fraud claim."

ConnectU doesn't actually currently know exactly what's in the IM logs. Part of the deal they cut that allowed their forensics expert access to the Facebook drives prohibited him from revealing specific details of anything other than software code.

Woodlock said the expert had "nevertheless, obliquely given ConnectU's attorneys reason to believe that there were documents, other than produced program code, on the Facebook hard drives relevant to the case which had not been disclosed".

A decsion on whether ConnectU can pull out of the settlement and renew its suit for copyright infringement and theft of trade secrets is set for 23 June in San Jose. Facebook is pursuing a counter-suit against the Winklevoss twins on the west coast. It alleges they nicked user data from Facebook directories while both were still based at Harvard. ®

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