Ebay In Litigation With Skype Founders Over Key Technology

skype_logo.jpgPerhaps with the benefit of hindsight, firing Skype founder Niklas Zennstrom as CEO in 2007 and paying out only 1/3 of the potential earnout wasn’t the best idea. Zennstrom seems to be holding quite a grudge.

eBay is developing new peer-to-peer software to run the Skype service, they revealed in a quarterly SEC statement.

The existing peer-to-peer software is controlled by Joltid, a company controlled by Skype’s founders Zennstrom and Janus Friis. The software was not acquired by eBay in its 2005 acquisition of the Skype service and is now the subject of litigation in the UK.

eBay is developing the new software in the event they lose the right to continue to license that technology, but warns that “such software development may not be successful, may result in loss of functionality or customers even if successful, and will in any event be expensive.”

This comes as eBay prepares to spin off Skype as in independent public company. And the service is surging in popularity, with 480 million registered users and $170 million in quarterly revenue.

The case isn’t scheduled for trial until June 2010. Don’t expect an IPO before that, unless a settlement is reached quickly.

From the 10Q:

Skype licenses peer-to-peer communication technology from Joltid Limited pursuant to a license agreement between the parties. The parties had been discussing a dispute over the license. In March 2009, Skype Technologies S.A. filed a claim in the English High Court of Justice (No. HC09C00756) against Joltid Limited. Following the filing of the claim, Joltid purported to terminate the license agreement between the parties. In particular, Joltid has alleged that Skype should not possess, use or modify certain software source code and that, by doing so, and by disclosing such code in certain U.S. patent cases pursuant to orders from U.S. courts, Skype has breached the license agreement. Joltid has brought a counterclaim alleging that Skype has repudiated the license agreement, infringed Joltid’s copyright and misused confidential information. On the basis of, among other things, the parties’ mutual dealings since the execution of the license agreement, Skype asked the English High Court for declaratory relief, including findings that Skype is not in breach of the license agreement, that Joltid’s notice of breach and subsequent notice of termination are invalid, and that Joltid has certain indemnity obligations in relation to the U.S. patent proceedings. Trial is currently scheduled for June 2010. 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. Skype has begun to develop alternative software to that licensed through Joltid. However, such software development may not be successful, may result in loss of functionality or customers even if successful, and will in any event be expensive. If Skype was to lose the right to use the Joltid software as the result of the litigation, and if alternative software was not available, Skype would be severely and adversely affected and the continued operation of Skype’s business as currently conducted would likely not be possible.