Microsoft has suspended its Chinese microblogging site ‘Juku' after it was accused of stealing the code from the Canadian site ‘Plurk'.

In a statement, Microsoft said that questions arose over a beta application called Juku developed by a Chinese vendor for our MSN China joint venture on Monday, and it immediately worked with our MSN China joint venture to investigate the situation.

It said: “The vendor has now acknowledged that a portion of the code they provided was indeed copied. This was in clear violation of the vendor's contract with the MSN China joint venture, and equally inconsistent with Microsoft's policies respecting intellectual property.

“When we hire an outside company to do development work, our practice is to include strong language in our contract that clearly states the company must provide work that does not infringe the intellectual property rights of others. We are a company that respects intellectual property and it was never our intent to have a site that was not respectful of the work that others in the industry have done.”

It said that it will be suspending access to the Juku beta indefinitely and was ‘obviously very disappointed', but assumed responsibility for this situation.

Plurk, which Reuters claimed was considered to be a rival to Twitter, said that about 80 per cent of the client and product codebase for Microsoft's Juku appears to be a copy of its own service.

Plurk said that ‘as a young start-up, we're stunned, shocked, and unsure what to do next and need your support and suggestions'.

It said in a blog posting: “Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but 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.

“We were first tipped off by high profile bloggers and Taiwanese users of our community that Microsoft had just launched a new Chinese microblogging service that looked eerily similar to Plurk. Needless to say we were absolutely shocked and outraged when we first saw with our own eyes the cosmetic similarities Microsoft's new offering had with Plurk.

“From the filter tabs, emoticons, qualifier/verb placement, Karma scoring system, media support, new user walkthroughs to pretty much everything else that gives Plurk its trademark appeal, Microsoft China's offering ripped off our service.”

It also said that ‘if this was just a case of visual inspiration gone too far, we could probably have lived with it' and it ‘would have taken the time to reach out to Microsoft, get colour on the matter and try to amicably resolve it'.

However it saw this as ‘something far more sinister', and said: “We're still in shock asking why Microsoft would even stoop to this level of wilfully plagiarising a young and innovative upstart's work rather than reach out to us or innovate on their own terms.

“Of course, it just hits that much closer to home when all your years of hard work and effort to create something unique are stolen so brazenly. All the more ironic considering Microsoft has often been leading the charge on fighting for stronger IP laws and combating software piracy in China.

“So what next? We're not entirely sure but we are exploring our options. We have been seeking advice from respected colleagues, responding to press inquiries and gathering facts on the timeline of events and parties involved here to understand why and how this took place.”

Microsoft concluded its statement by saying: “We apologise to Plurk and we will be reaching out to them directly to explain what happened and the steps we have taken to resolve the situation. In the wake of this incident, Microsoft and our MSN China joint venture will be taking a look at our practices around applications code provided by third-party vendors.”