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Asian Start-Up Charges Microsoft with Gross Theft [UPDATE]

It's not that uncommon for some company to declare that "Microsoft stole our stuff." But the complaint by Asian microblogging site Plurk is detailed and points both to code as well as look and feel of the entire site. (The image below comes from Plurk's post.)

I have to admit, the two designs look very similar. Not completely identical, but pretty darned close. And check the link to see the similarities in the code, which are even closer than the interface.

Even the names of variables and JavaScript routines are often identical, or so close that one seems to have been copied from another. And as Plurk was first on the scene, it seems more likely that Microsoft was lifting code receiving inspiration from Plurk.

It's not as though this is the first time that a company has accused Microsoft of purloining its technology. Not only did I hear that informally in my years in the industry, but there have been some pretty large patent infringement cases that have essentially made this charge. But in these instances, the company alleging the misappropriate generally had either met with Microsoft and shared significant technical details or had been in a partnership with the company for some (brief) period of time. Apparently not so this time:

Some users in the blogosphere even speculated that Microsoft Mclub/Juku was some sort of official partnership we'd struck with Microsoft to clear a re-entry into China after our earlier censorship in the region behind the Great Firewall of China, prior to which we were the #1 microblogging service in the country. Let's clear the air around this. While many reputable internet companies have forged solid partnerships with Plurk, valuing our innovation and market leadership in Asia, Microsoft was absolutely not one of them. We were never contacted by any party at M$ to collaborate on such a venture nor did we give any prior written or verbal permission to anyone on their side to take our code, take our CSS, and copy the essence and ethos of our service.
This is the first instance I've seen where a company accused Microsoft of going in and lifting code from its site. In fact, the action seems out of character -- and, note, I am in no way saying that Microsoft is too "pure" or "good" to have done something like this. It's just that the pattern alleged in the past has been:
  1. Microsoft said that it wanted to do business with us.
  2. We came in and showed what we had.
  3. Microsoft said (either at the time or after some brief period of partnership) that it no longer needed us.
  4. It came out with something that looked to us like our technology.
If the charge of theft is accurate -- and, my, those side-by-side examples are pretty convincing -- then perhaps this was something done locally in Asia without the knowledge of the folks back in the main office. Not that it matters, because what's done on the web rarely stays just on the web, and all URLs, in this case, will lead back to Redmond. The question is what Plurk will end up doing, and what Microsoft might have to do in response.

[UPDATE: Talk about a short wait. Microsoft is now officially looking into the charges:

Our MSN China joint venture contracted with an independent vendor to create a feature called MSN Juku that allowed MSN users to find friends via microblogging and online games. This MSN Juku feature was made available to MSN China users in November and is still in beta.
So the company contracted out the programming and design? Since when does Microsoft not do its own programming, whether through staff or contract workers? MSN China is "suspending access to the Juku beta feature temporarily" while someone investigates.]
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