Microsoft was ordered by a US judge last week to produce thousands of emails as part of an investigation into whether the software giant stole intellectual property from a small company called Burst.com and used it in Media Player 9.
Richard Lang, chief executive of Burst.com, explained to ZDNet UK that his company had spent more than ten years developing and patenting a media transmission technology designed to send video and audio files electronically. From 1999, Burst.com and Microsoft worked together for two years, but while the IT sector was going through economic meltdown, their relationship went cold and Microsoft offered Burst.com $1m (£0.64m) for global rights to its software -- an offer that Burst.com turned down.
At the end of 2001, Microsoft announced a "third generation video streaming technology", which appeared to be the Burst.com product, said Lang. "In early 2002, Bill Gates made the official introduction -- they called the product Windows Media Player 9 -- which in our view incorporated our patents without a licence."
Lang immediately hired some lawyers on a contingency basis and filed a suit against Microsoft.
As part of the investigation phase of the case, Microsoft produced email communications relating to its dealings with Burst.com, but it admitted that a large number of emails were missing because they had been deleted, along with backup copies.
Spencer Hosie, attorney for Burst.com told ZDNet UK: "Microsoft is a company that lives and dies by email -- that is how they communicate. Emails that should be there were not; for instance, there were a whole series of meetings between my client and Microsoft, and there are no emails discussing those meetings."
Hosie said he asked the judge to order Microsoft to go through its backup tapes and produce the missing documents: "The court has said yes and Microsoft is starting that process now."
The next step will be in around a month when Microsoft will tell the court what it has retrieved from the backup tapes.
Microsoft was unavailable to comment on this story.