The Skype-eBay plot thickens. Joost and Joltid, both companies owned by Skype’s founders, have filed a lawsuit against former Joost chairman and CEO, Mike Volpi. The suit also names Index Ventures, the VC firm where Volpi is a partner. In a nutshell, the legal documents say that Volpi obtained confidential information in his role as CEO of Joost about how to circumvent Joltid’s IP. We’ve embedded the legal document that appears to have been filed this morning, below.
Earlier this week, Joltid, the Swedish firm owned by founders of Skype sued eBay and recent Skype buyer Silver Lake Partners and its partners in the buyout, Index Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board; accusing them of copyright violations. The twist: Skype founders Janus Friis and Niklas Zennstrom also founded Joost and Volpi, Joost’s former chairman and CEO who left the imploding company in June to become a partner at Index Ventures, has been rumored to be a contender for Skype’s CEO position.
While Friis and Zennstrom named Volpi as a defendant in the earlier suit against eBay, it appears that the new suit against Volpi alleges leaking of trade secrets from Joost, breach of contract and “civil conspiracy.”
So what does this all mean? It’s a little complicated and slightly twisted. Yesterday, TechCrunch’s Robin Wauter’s reported that Skype is actively shopping around for companies that provide web-based communication services such as browser-based calling and video chats to add this functionality to the product. What the complaint basically implies is that at Joost, Volpi had access and knowledge of information regarding the ability for the peer-to-peer technology to go to the web. In his role at Joost, Volpi knew how it could be possible to make the switch to a web-based communication service within the source code. This source code is intellectual property owned by Joltid. The reason the bid from the consortium of bidders was so high, was because they all has knowledge (from Volpi and participant Index Ventures) that its possible for Skype to go web-based.
The complaint goes on to say that Google and Microsoft were considering buying Skype and were both aware of the ability for Skype to possibly add web-based functionality but didn’t want to touch it because of the complicated IP situation, since Joltid owns the code. All of that said, the complaint doesn’t have any affidavits or direct evidence that Volpi used this info in the bid to buy Skype.
eBay sold Skype in a deal valuing the peer-to-peer telephony service at $2.75 billion a few weeks ago, with the new investors owning approximately 65% of Skype, with eBay continuing to own 35%. Several months ago, Skype’s founders made their intentions public by announcing they wanted to buy Skype back from eBay. Shortly after this announcement, eBay announced that Skype was to be spun off as a separate company and then IPO.
From a press release issued by Joost/Joltid this morning:
The lawsuit alleges breach of fiduciary duty against Volpi, aiding and abetting breach of fiduciary duty against Index, interference with prospective business advantage, misappropriation of trade secrets, breach of contract against Index, breach of confidence, and civil conspiracy. The suit seeks an injunction requiring the defendants to return to the plaintiffs all documents and files containing confidential information that the lawsuit alleges was misappropriated from Joost, and enjoining the defendants from making any use of the alleged misappropriated trade secrets, among other things.
Update: More TechCrunch commentary on this story here.