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Who (was) On First? Zuckerberg Accused Of Shop-Lifting Facebook

Who says Google is the only Internet player getting sued? Yes, they get most of the notoriety. Of recent date, they've battled a major superpower (i.e. China), Rupert Murdoch, a Google Buzz Class Action suit, privacy issues and various and sundry anti-trust complaints (see "Google vs The World…"). But up till now, no one has accused the Big "G" of stealing their idea. Facebook, on the other hand is another matter.

In advance of the movie, "The Social Network," about the origins of Facebook, real-life seems to be dealing Zuckerberg several hands that are going to need to be played out in the courts. While some say the suit lodged against him from fellow Harvard students, the Winkelvosses (aka the Uber-twins) is coming to a resolution, there's others that believe the firestorm is just beginning to escalate.

Dating as far back as 2000, when Cross Atlantic Capital Partners (XACP) submitted a patent for an Internet-based "community for users with common interests to interact in" (sound familiar), Zuckerberg was actually enlisted by the twins to help them develop a "Facebook-type" network called "ConnectU."

Tyler & Cameron WinkelvossTyler & Cameron WinkelvossAs the story goes, Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss started working on ConnectU a couple of years after they filed their patent. They thought that computer whiz-kid Zuckerberg was a likely choice to help them meet their goals, until Zuckerberg launched a similar site (initially called) thefacebook.com. In less than a year, the site was so widely popular on campus, it scaled into a global success under the name 'Facebook.'

To address the Winkelvosses' court complaint, Zuckerberg floated the twins an offer of $65 million. The 'fly in the ointment' is that only $20 million of the offer was for cash. The balance was to be paid out in shares of the company - shares in a company that hasn't yet gone public.

According to a FastCompany report, "It's highly unlikely that the suit will shut down the rumbling juggernaut that is Facebook, but should XCAP succeed, then the firm will have to pay out millions of dollars. The court case will undoubtedly slam the brakes on Facebook's IPO  which, since it recently started turning a profit, cannot be that far off."

In a public statement about the dispute Facebook told to the BBC:
  • "We hope that discussion of spurious and false allegations and other matters that were concluded years ago are not distracting anyone from their preparations for the race. We consider the matter concluded. (note: the race referred to was a Cambridge crew race at Oxford that the twins were participating in).
What I find so intriguing about this story is Zuckerberg's personality trait of 'alleged' ruthlessness starting with Winklevosses and then continuing on with his other Eduardo SaverinEduardo Saverinpartner, Eduardo Saverin. Saverin's account of the early days of Facebook doesn't dwell so much on the ConnectU controversy as it does on how he was treated by his partner. It is Saverin's account of how he was forced out of Facebook by Zuckerberg in 2004 that is the crux of Ben Mezrich's book. "The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal."

Aaron SorkinAaron SorkinThe book is the basis for Aaron Sorkin's screenplay "The Social Network" which is being produced by Kevin Spacey and will star Jesse Eisenberg as Zuckerberg. Both partnerships and the fall-outs have apparently been written into the script.

According to Caroline McCarthy of CNET who has reviewed the screenplay, she sees the most notable difference between the movie and book is the movie portrays Zuckerberg as more class-conscious where his dialogue is consistently "weighted with snarky arrogance." [Spoiler Alert]: McCarthy goes on to note that "the question of whether Zuckerberg was duping the ConnectU founders by working on Facebook while ostensibly in their employ is addressed much more decisively than in the book -- and it's not favorable to Zuckerberg."

So when the movie debuts sometime in the Fall, it will be interesting to see if by that time the Winklevoss twins will settle and if not, how many other players might follow suit (literally). Ironic as it may seem, a social network that was built on the premise of "befriending" people has a underlying foundation of relationships gone sour!

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Ron Callari
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