Skype is no stranger to patent litigation. One time, even its founders pursued a lawsuit against it. But this is a new lawsuit, not yet reported as far as I can tell. What’s more it was filed in the U.S. on May 10, 2011—the same day that Microsoft announced its $8.5 billion acquisition of Skype.
The case is Via Vadis Vs. Skype (embedded below) and was filed in the Eastern District of Virginia. Via Vadis is a Luxembourg-based company with a license to the patents in question: U.S. Patent No. 7904680: “Data access management system as well as a method for data access and data” and U.S. Reissue Patent RE40,521 of the same name. (The inventor of both is Thomas Binzinger, and the assignee is AC Technologies).
Both patents describe data management systems which break up files for redundancy and distribute them across different “storage units.” The lawsuit claims the patents cover the same technology Skype uses for its “supernodes”—which function as fallback peers in Skype’s peer-to-peer technology. The first patent was issued on March 8, 2011, and the application goes back to July 23, 2005.
But here’s the thing. Skype was founded in 2003, and acquired by eBay in 2005, well after its peer-to-peer system was functioning. Whether or not that counts as “prior art” will be for a jury to decide, if this ever gets that far. Skype has fought off patent claims successfully in the past.
Via Vadis also filed a lawsuit in Germany against Skype on January 21, 2011 for the corresponding European patent and even got a court order to obtain Skype’s source code, which Skype has appealed and refuses to turn over. If they get the source code, that could be problematic for Skype.
Regardless of the merits of the case, Microsoft should have found out about the German lawsuit at least during its due diligence. I’ve asked Microsoft for a comment.