Skype: A $1.9 Billion Legal Nightmare
EBay’s plan to sell a 65 percent stake in Skype to a group of private investors is going to be a bit more difficult to pull off than expected. This afternoon, Joltid, a company owned by Skype’s founders, filed a copyright suit against eBay and the consortium of investors that just paid $1.9 billion for a majority interest in it.
The suit, over Joltid-owned peer-to-peer technology used in Skype’s software, seeks an injunction against Skype as well as damages that Joltid claims “are amassing at a rate of more than $75 million daily.”
A nasty surprise for Skype’s new owners: Silver Lake, the Silicon Valley-based private equity group; Index Ventures, the London-based venture capital firm; Internet entrepreneur Marc Andreessen’s new Andreessen Horowitz fund; and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board. Though, really they should have seen this coming. After all, Skype and Joltid have been sparring since earlier this year.
As previously disclosed, Skype has been in a dispute with the licensor of certain key technologies and had terminated a “standstill” agreement that had been entered into between the parties, permitting either to take action against the other with effect from March 2009. On March 12, 2009, Skype Technologies S.A. filed a claim in the English High Court of Justice (No. HC09C00756) against Joltid Limited, a BVI company.
In connection with the license agreement between the two companies, Skype licenses peer-to-peer communication technology from Joltid, and Joltid has claimed that Skype has breached the terms of the license agreement. Following the filing of the claim, Joltid purported to terminate the license agreement. In particular, Joltid has alleged that Skype should not possess, use or modify certain software code (the “Code”) and that, by doing so, and by disclosing the Code in certain U.S. patent cases, pursuant to orders from U.S. courts, it has breached the license agreement.
On the basis of, among other things, the parties’ mutual dealings since the execution of the licence agreement, Skype is asking the English High Court for declaratory relief, including findings that:
(i) Skype is lawfully accessing, in possession of, using and modifying the Code so that Skype is not in breach of the license agreement with Joltid and accordingly Joltid’s notice of breach and subsequent notice of termination are invalid;
(ii) Skype lawfully disclosed the Code in the U.S. patent cases so that Skype is not in breach of the license agreement with Joltid and accordingly Joltid’s notice of breach and subsequent notice of termination are invalid; and
(iii) Joltid has certain indemnity obligations in relation to the U.S. patent proceedings.
Although Skype is confident of its legal position, as with any litigation there is the possibility of an adverse result if the matter is not resolved through negotiation. In such event, Skype would be adversely affected and the continued operation of Skype’s business as currently conducted would likely not be possible.
Perhaps this is why we saw so few bidders for Skype?