Joltid Versus Volpi: The Antagonism Intensifies

The high-stakes battle for Skype already was contentious, even bitter.

It became poisonous today when companies controlled by Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis filed a motion for a preliminary injunction against Michael Volpi and venture-capital firm Index Ventures in the United States District Court for the District of Delaware.

In the motion and accompanying supporting documentation — filed by Joost US, Inc., its indirect parent company Joost N.V., and Joltid Limited — Volpi, formerly the CEO and chairman of video-sharing company Jooost, and Index are accused of a veritable panoply of chicanery and outright malfeasance. Many of the allegations are nothing short of incendiary.

Flowing from intellectual-property disputes and lawsuits relating to Joltid software technology, the motion is intended to prevent eBay from completing the $1.9-billion sale of a 65-percent interest in Skype to a group of investors that includes Index Ventures, private-equity firm Silver Lake, venture-capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board.

Zennstrom and Friis would like to own Skype, in whole or in part, and they’re desperate to stop eBay’s Skype deal from coming to fruition.

A press release announcing the preliminary-injunction motion spells out the plaintiffs’ immediate objectives:

The Motion for Preliminary Injunction asks the Court to enjoin Index and Volpi from using any of Joost’s and Joltid’s confidential information regarding (among other things) the Global Index Software, the technology developed and owned by Joltid that provides the peer-to-peer capability embedded in the Skype program. The Motion also asks the Court to enjoin the defendants from:

(i) using the confidential information in connection with the operation or strategic planning of Skype;

(ii) communicating such information to other parties in the “Buyout Group” that has made a bid to acquire Skype from eBayInc.;

(iii) soliciting employees of Joost and Joltid with offers to join Skype;

(iv) having communications with current or former employees of Joost orJoltid regarding the companies’ confidential information; and

(v) further participating in the Skype acquisition or assuming any position with Skype until a final adjudication of the merits of the case.

Citing allegations made against Volpi and Index Ventures in a lawsuit filed on September 19, the filing flatly asserts that “the entire transaction is . . . . infected with Volpi’s misconduct.”

Those who haven’t been following this complex and personally fraught conflict can be forgiven for not understanding the complicated drama without the benefit of an annotated program. As I attempted to explain in an earlier post, the allegations are centered on former Cisco wheeler-dealer Volpi’s tenure as CEO and chairman of Joost, a company founded by Zennstrom and Friis.

Like other companies – such as Kazaa and Skype – launched by Zennstrom and Friis, Joost leveraged and licensed underlying peer-to-peer software code from subsidiary companies (including Joltid) also owned by Zennstrom and Friis.

In 2008, during Volpi’s unsuccessful reign at Joost, he is reputed to have led an effort to shift the company’s client-based software and p2p architecture – based on Joltid’s Global Index (GI) software, which also provides the underpinnings for Skype — to a web-based model with a centralized server-based architecture. Although he cited business and technological reasons for the move, Zennstrom and Friis contend skullduggery was afoot.

Essentially, the plaintiffs assert, Volpi used inside knowledge of how Global Index and other Joltid software worked to help Skype violate terms of an executable-license agreement it had struck with Joltid for use of the General Index software. Unlike Skye, Joost had a license for the source code.

Meanwhile, Joost’s fortunes were waning while Skype remained popular with millions worldwide as a means of conducting presence-based voice, IM, and video communications.

At some point, in early 2009, while he still was the CEO of Joost, Volpi is accused of conspiring with his colleagues at Index Ventures on a plan to gain a controlling interest in Skype, partly through his knowledge of how Joltid’s General Index functioned. The plaintiffs allege that Volpi, trading on confidential technical information he obtained at Joost, made himself indispensable to the “buyout group,” and that he subsequently met with senior executives at Skype to discuss technical workarounds that would extricate that company from its lawsuits with Joltid over use of General Index code.

Volpi is also alleged to have attempted to poach employees at Joost who had intimate knowledge of how the disputed p2p software worked.

A welter of email correspondence and other documentation has been adduced by the plaintiffs to support their case for an injunction. Some of those background documents make for fascinating reading, particularly Volpi’s email correspondence relating to the structure of the Skype deal.

I might revisit some of that content in future missives. Suffice it to say, Volpi’s remark about Charlie Giancarlo – now with Silver Lake Partners, but formerly an executive counterpart of Volpi’s at Cisco – will raise eyebrows.

Said Volpi of Giancarlo: “Charlie is a good guy, but not a superstar . . . . His core asset at Cisco is (sic) that he was much more inclined to say “yes” to John (Chambers, Cisco’s CEO) than I was.”

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