Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Dueling Skype Sides Hire Big Communications Guns


Perhaps the sides in the ever-escalating war over the Skype deal will work out their differences and settle–which is what should and probably will eventually happen after everyone realizes how stupid all this noisy legal wrangling over the Internet telephony giant is.

But that day is decidedly not today, given a pair of recent PR hires by parties involved.

The founders of Skype, via the two tech companies they control, Joost and Joltid, have hired Sitrick & Company, headquartered in Los Angeles, while Index Ventures has tapped Joele Frank, Wilkinson Brimmer Katcher, based in New York.

Both strategic communications and public relations firms are well known for employing some very sharp elbows and extremely tough talk when it is time for some creative corporate crisis management.

And both are familiar with tech issues, having worked on contentious issues related to companies such as Microsoft (MSFT), Yahoo (YHOO), CBS (CBS) online unit CNET, and others.

And there is plenty of bad blood to work with here.

Yesterday, in yet another legal volley, Joost and Joltid filed a motion for preliminary injunction against former Joost CEO Michelangelo Volpi and Index Ventures, where Volpi now works as a partner.

They are asking that he not use knowledge or confidential information he got at the video start-up in current dealings with Skype.

Legal attacks have become the negotiating tool of choice from the founders of Skype, Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis, who were on the losing side of the $2 billion deal to buy the Internet telephony giant from eBay (EBAY).

Volpi is now a partner at London-based Index, which was one of the smaller players on the winning side of the bid, putting up $75 million.

To complicate things further, the innovative and entrepreneurial pair also own a company called Joltid, which has licensed key technology for Skype to eBay.

Joltid and eBay have already been fighting in court over that agreement, bickering back and forth about whether eBay violated the terms of that deal or not.

Via Joltid, Zennström and Friis also filed suit again against Skype and its owner, eBay, for copyright violations in the U.S.

For good measure, they added the winning buyout group, including Index, Silver Lake Partners, Andreessen Horowitz and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board.

And both Joltid and Joost have also sued Volpi personally, as well as Index, making serious allegations about his behavior as Joost CEO.

This kind of mud-slinging could get even worse with the hiring of big PR firms.

Along with Frank and Sitrick, by the way, Silver Lake–which is the big player on the winning side–has hired Edelman’s crisis and issues management team.

Interestingly, several sources said, the various players have also been engaged in settlement talks, even as the lawsuits have piled up.

Coming to some agreement is clearly the best outcome, although it does not appear that the spate of lawsuits has yet derailed the eBay deal with the Silver Lake-led group, which could even close in the next several weeks.

“Everyone should be thinking ahead of the headlights,” said one source. “But right now, it seems to be all about emotions.”

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There was a worry before I started this that I was going to burn every bridge I had. But I realize now that there are some bridges that are worth burning.

— Valleywag editor Sam Biddle