Joltid vs. Skype: Is there a workaround?

The legal tussle between Skype and its co-founders is getting ugly, but eBay may have some other technical options at its disposal to undermine the case.

The legal tussle between Skype and its co-founders is getting ugly, but eBay may have some other technical options at its disposal to undermine the case.

Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis, who control peer-to-peer software company Joltid, filed a copyright lawsuit against Skype in the U.S. District Court of Northern California on Wednesday (Techmeme). The suit seeks to derail the sale of Skype, which eBay offloaded to a series of investors.

In the complaint, Joltid outlines the technology in question:

Joltid, Limited, is a company that develops and provides peer-to-peer based software products. As the world's leading developer of peer-to-peer technologies, in 2003 Joltid created a new software technology known as Global Index (GI Software). The GI Software, Joltid's flagship product, is the world's most technologically advanced, scalable and field-tested peer-to peer technology. Peer-to-peer technology involves computer architecture that eschews a central database server configuration in favor of a distributed system that harnesses the collective computing power of client computers utilizing the Internet worldwide. GI Software creates a self organizing and self-healing distributed storage, transportation and data object management system that eliminates the costs of traditional datacenter solutions and enables a range of applications from communications to broadcasting and beyond. Joltid owns all intellectual property in the GI Software, including copyrights and patents.

In a nutshell, Skype licensed that GI Software, but then got into a license squabble with Joltid. Joltid wants to prevent Skype from using its technology. Skype says it licensed the technology fair and square. Skype sale is also complicating matters. Now everyone is in court.

So what's next? Bernstein analyst Jeffrey Lindsay handicaps Skype's options. Lindsay writes in a research note that a permanent shutdown of Skype is unlikely. Nevertheless, eBay, Skype and Joltid are likely to have a protracted court battle. Meanwhile, there's a UK case that will be heard in June 2010.

Is there a tech fix? Possibly. Lindsay writes:

We think eBay has several options which it is likely to be pursuing such as converting to SIP protocol (like Vonage) or licensing an alternative VoIP technology such as Google Voice or even AOL's IM technology which is voice capable. Success with any of these alternatives would likely undermine Joltid's case considerably and accelerate a settlement or a dismissal.

Skype licensing Google Voice would be quite interesting (as would some of the other options). The big question is whether Skype's user base would notice a change in the underlying technology.