Skype faces legal issues; possible closure

eBay, the current owner and operator of the Skype VoIP service, could be in serious legal limbo that could lead to the service shutting down in the future, although eBay officials deny there is any immediate chance of closure.

On Thursday, eBay denied Skype is in danger, but there is growing concern a legal case between eBay and Joltid could lead to a major shakeup.  EBay and Joltid have a licensing agreement in place, but there has been a growing dispute regarding the agreement, as eBay filed a lawsuit in the UK, saying it has been unable to end the license agreement.  Joltid responded by filing a counterclaim blaming Skype of violating the licensing agreement in the first place.

“Our plans to separate Skype have not been changed,” according to a statement released by eBay.

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The company is now working on software it can use to keep the popular audio and video service running if a licensing agreement cannot be agreed upon soon.  Developing the new software is expected to be costly and time consuming, so eBay hopes to be able to work something out with Joltid.

I’d be shocked if Skype, with more than 480 million registered users, cannot reach an agreement with Joltid, or at least finish its own version of the software.  A trial between the two companies is scheduled for June 2010, but eBay is seeking a resolution as fast as possible.  If Joltid’s request isn’t too stringent, it’s likely eBay will show interest in creating a new licensing agreement before Skype users begin to jump ship.

“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 negotiations,” eBay wrote in its recent SEC filing.  “”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.”