Jealous Geeks in $2 Billion Wrestling Match Over SkypeS

How did a group of private investors snag Skype for $2 billion+ when big public corporations like Google were too scared to bid, thanks to lawsuits? With stolen computer nerd sorcery, allegedly.

Skype founders Janus Friis and Niklas Zennstrom (pictured) appeared to have it made before the computer wizardly was allegedly stolen. They had eBay, to whom they sold their internet phone-call service in 2005, on the ropes. The online auction company was trying to sell Skype, but Friis and Zennstrom's barrage of software-licensing and copyright lawsuits against eBay scared off potential buyers like Google. eBay, it seemed, would be forced to accept Friis and Zennstrom's own lowball offer to buy back Skype.

Then a consortium of private finance companies swooped in with an offer — ultimately accepted — valued at a cool $2.8 billion. It just so happened that one of the buyers, Index Ventures, employs a guy named Mike Volpi, who used to work for the Skype founders. One of Volpi's tasks for Friis and Zennstrom, according to their suit (embedded below), was to learn how to replace the "Global Index" software code at the heart of their various internet communications software, including Skype. Being able to remove this software would potentially moot many of Friis and Zennstrom's Skype lawsuits, thus making Skype much more valuable to its owner — the company Volpi now works for.

Friis and Zennstrom are alleging that ex-employee Volpi stole secrets from them, and breached his fiduciary duty as chairman of one of their companies, online video company Joost. In so doing, they are not only kicking off an epic, $2 billion nerdfight, they are also cementing their reputations as among the most litigious entrepreneurs in tech. In addition to suing eBay in both U.S. and British courts, and Volpi, they've also filed three separate lawsuits against the investment banker who represented them in their sale of Skype, according to the New York Times.

For a couple of guys whose product is revolutionizing global communication, Friis and Zennstrom have a distinctly old-fashioned way of sending a message.

Joost lawsuit Click to view

Coverage elsewhere: VentureBeat, TechCrunch

(Top pic by Steve Jurvetson)