Last week, a little-publicized legal case involving Microsoft and a small UK company named Burst.com reached a head when a US judge reportedly ordered the software giant to turn over thousands of missing email messages related to the case. Or at least that's what Burst.com reports. According to the company's accounts of the closed hearing, Microsoft mysteriously lost email messages related to Burst.com during a crucial period of work between the two companies. But the wider case revolves around the question of theft: Did Microsoft steal Burst.com's streaming digital-media technology and use that technology in its Windows Media 9 Series products? This week, Microsoft publicly denied Burst.com's claims that it had done so and said it developed the technology inhouse.
"Microsoft vehemently denies Burst.com's allegations and contends that the technology that is part of our Media Player 9 was developed by Microsoft engineers," a Microsoft spokesperson said. He also denied that a judge ordered Microsoft to turn over "missing emails" and said that Burst.com's account of that part of the trial is inaccurate and groundless. "Their fundamental premise, that there were missing emails from a specific period of time, is simply wrong. \[At the hearing, we\] discussed a routine discovery issue arising from the fact that not every email sent or received gets saved. \[The judge\] simply directed us to do a more thorough search of our backup files to search for any emails that, as a matter of business routine, were not saved elsewhere."
Beginning in 1999, Burst.com and Microsoft worked together for 2 years to develop streaming-media technologies. At some point during their relationship, Microsoft tried to buy the smaller company's assets for $1 million, an offer Burst.com turned down. A year after the offer, Microsoft debuted its next-generation streaming-video technology in the Windows Media 9 Series products. Burst.com believes that Microsoft's technology is based on patents Burst.com owns; the company filed a patent-infringement lawsuit against Microsoft last year.