Facebook will next week attempt to convince a US judge to throw out claims that Mark Zuckerberg, the social networking group’s founder, created the popular website using code and other ideas stolen from a rival site run by three former Harvard classmates.
The hearing marks the latest twist in a three-year legal battle between Facebook and ConnectU, which is seeking an injunction that would shut down Facebook and transfer many of its assets to Mr Zuckerberg’s aggrieved former colleagues.
The legal spat is attracting renewed attention amid reports that Facebook’s backers believe the site, which allows users to share photos, messages and other information with classmates and friends, could be worth as much as $8bn.
It underscores the difficulties that first-time entrepreneurs can face while working on a new idea before it has been formalised as a start-up company.
Facebook, the world’s second biggest social network behind Rupert Murdoch’s MySpace, was last year thought to have turned down a $1bn buy-out offer from Yahoo, the internet portal.
Mr Zuckerberg, 23, has said he would prefer to run Facebook as an independent company. His statements, together with Facebook’s growing user base, have prompted rumours that the group may seek an initial public offering.
Eric Goldman, a professor at the Santa Clara University law school, said there were numerous examples of companies that had been forced to cease operations because of similar intellectual property claims. However, he said the strength of ConnectU’s claims would depend on the facts of the case.
Prof Goldman said it was common for companies to be hit with lawsuits ahead of a potential IPO or takeover. “You generally have people emerging from the woodwork looking for a piece of the action,” he said.
Facebook declined to comment. ConnectU could not be reached for comment on Monday.
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