Law Firm Lets Slip $65 Million Facebook Settlement

 
 
By Nathan Eddy  |  Posted 2009-02-11
 
 
 

If the law firm of Quinn Emanuel, which bills itself as "the premier business litigation firm in the U.S.," had a Facebook page, Wednesday's status update might read something along the lines of "Quinn Emanuel is wishing it kept its mouth shut."

That's because the firm's public relations department accidentally disclosed the terms of what was supposed to be a $65 million confidential settlement between social networking site Facebook and ConnectU, a social networking site developed at Harvard University.

The settlement resolved a dispute involving Mark Zuckerburg, who worked with ConnectU founders Divya Narendra and brothers Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss on ConnectU and eventually created Facebook. The Winklevoss brothers sued Zuckerburg in 2004, claiming he stole their ideas (and source code) to build what is now the world's largest social networking site. ConnectU's legal representation, law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges, accidentally disclosed the terms of the settlement in a marketing brochure, according to the legal publication The Recorder.

Buried among dozens of other successful legal battles promoted in the firm's January business litigation newsletter reads "WON $65 million settlement against Facebook,"which can be viewed on The Recorder's Web site. ConnectU vs. Facebook, settled in August 2008 and approved by Judge James Ware of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, detailed only that the settlement would be a mix of cash and stock, excluding any specific dollar amount. The Recorder noted that Quinn Emanual's chairman John Quinn asked that the amount not be published due to confidentiality agreement and stated the firm would not comment further on the issue.  

However, The Los Angeles Times reported Peter Calamari, a lawyer representing ConnectU, said the release was inadvertent. "Our PR people released something, and it didn't get caught by the people who knew," Calamari told The Times. "We had a policy against commenting or talking publicly about this case."

The slip-up is unlikely to warm relations between the Winklevoss brothers and Quinn Emanual; the brothers sued the firm after the settlement, claiming their lawyers failed to adequately investigate the value of the stock included in the settlement. ConnectU and the firm are currently embroiled in a legal dispute of their own, with Quinn Emanual seeking $13 million in fees.

Regardless of how Facebook's value is assessed, (Microsoft's $240 million stake in the company inflated one valuation to $15 billion) Zuckerburg's company, which boasts more than 150 million active users worldwide, is not taking a substantial financial loss, although this embarrassing leak is the type of mistake you might make on a social networking site (paging Kyle Doyle).

Now that everyone knows the Winklevoss twins are $65 million dollars richer, one could assume they are likely to see an immediate increase in friend requests on Facebook-- if they've joined up, that is.

Rocket Fuel