The New York Times had a great article today about the ongoing ConnectU/Facebook kerfuffle (pdf). There are many lessons here for those starting up a technology company.

They quote R. Scott Feldmann, an intellectual property lawyer and a partner at Crowell & Moring.

Ideas, Mr. Feldmann explained, are protected either by trade-secret contracts or by patents and copyrights. “Trade secrets may be maintained indefinitely,” he said, but “it does not appear that ConnectU had Zuckerberg sign a nondisclosure agreement, and disclosing a trade secret to someone without doing so would ordinarily result in loss of any trade secret status.”

At the same time, Mr. Feldmann said, “copyright will not protect ideas themselves, only their expression” — in a Web site’s underlying source code, for instance. But if Mr. Zuckerberg was an unpaid, casual worker at ConnectU, and not an employee, then “he owns the code,” Mr. Feldmann said. Thus, even if the ConnectU plaintiffs can prove that the codes of two social networking sites were similar (an argument that Facebook seems confident it can refute), the Winklevosses might have no claims on Mr. Zuckerberg.

“On the surface, it appears ConnectU will have some challenges,” Mr. Feldmann said.

Given all the sturm und drang this case has kicked up on the blogosphere (now also in the offline press), the thing that keeps running through my head is the old Peggy Lee song...