Microsoft this week found itself in another intellectual property theft snafu after a Chinese joint venture with MSN branding was found to have plagiarized the design and underlying code of another social network service called Plurk. MSN Juku, a recently-launched Chinese social networking service that is based on MSN Messenger, is a joint venture between MSN China and an independent third-party company.

When the service launched earlier this month, however, Microsoft described MSN Juku as "a local innovation developed by MSN China," and not a microblogging service like Twitter. But MSN Juku is clearly a Twitter clone, allowing people to publish 140 character posts, just like Twitter. And it wasn't developed by MSN China, but was instead farmed out to a third party.

The service's similarities to Twitter are not at issue, however. Instead, a separate social networking service, Plurk, says that MSN Juku is a direct "rip off" of its own service. "Blatant theft of code, design, and UI elements is just not cool, especially when the infringing party is the biggest software company in the world," a public statement from Plurk reads. "Some 80 percent of the client and product codebase appears to be stolen directly from Plurk \[and\] the service's design and UI is by and large an EXACT copy of Plurk's innovative left-right timeline scrolling navigation system."

Plurk backed up these claims with ample and obvious evidence and noted that it was never once approached by Microsoft or its representatives about collaborating on the design of MSN Juku.

Microsoft responded quickly to the charges and suspended the MSN Juku service. "Because questions have been raised about the code base comprising the service, MSN China will be suspending access to the Juku beta feature temporarily while we investigate the matter fully," a Microsoft statement reads. The company also says that MSN Juku was created by "an independent vendor," contrary to the statement it made about the service when it launched earlier this month.

This is the second time in the past two months that a vendor paid by Microsoft was found to have stolen software code and used it in a product or service provided to the public by the software giant. Previously, my Windows 7 Secrets co-author Rafael Rivera discovered that a Microsoft tool for creating Windows 7 boot DVDs illegally contained code that was licensed under the open-source GPL license. After a very short investigation, Microsoft announced that Rivera's claims were correct, apologized, pulled the tool, and then re-released it with GPL licensing and full access to the source code (as is required by that license)