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eBay scuffles with Skype founders

Dueling lawsuits threaten IPO

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eBay's plan to spin off Skype with an initial public offering in 2010 is being threatened by a dispute with the VoIP service's co-founders, who still own a key part of the software.

Bloomberg reports Skype's founders Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis have accused eBay of breaching a licensing deal and are threatening to yank the technology, which would disable the popular voice over internet service.

In return, eBay is suing Joltid, the company operated by Skype's founders, in a London court to prevent the shutdown.

The Skype founders apparently retained the service's peer-to-peer sharing technology when they sold to eBay for $2.6bn in 2005. (Which, of course, begs the question why eBay would pay all that money without ensuring they own the entire platform).

The ruckus has some financial experts predicting it could delay the IPO and lower the amount raised. ebay chief John Donahoe reckons Skype is worth more than $2bn — but the prospect of the service being broken when its on the block has investors worried. IP lawsuits may be commonplace in the tech world, but it could scare folks away from the public offering.

If Joltid win the lawsuit, the effect would be "devastating," Skype's attorney Charles Hollander told the court. The service would "exit the market whilst we embark on a lengthy and costly process of developing an alternative form of software code," he said.

Bloomberg speculates that with a potentially damaging lawsuit looming overhead, there's an increased chance eBay could sell to a private investor that's willing to settle rather than hold an IPO. Or eBay could settle with Joltid itself. Either way, it appears the Skype founders have eBay right where they want 'em. ®

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