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The Future Name Of Skype Is Up In The Air

The Future Name Of Skype Is Up In The Air

Did you know that Skype, the internet video calling software, is not part of Sky PLC?
If not then you are apparently not alone. The General Court of the European Union last week ruled that Skype is too similar a name to that of Sky and that it is potentially confusing to consumers.  On that basis, the General Court upheld Sky’s objection to Skype’s application for registration of the SKYPE trade mark.

Skype is in fact owned by Microsoft, having been bought over by the US technology giant in 2011. This latest decision represents another lost intellectual property fight for Microsoft, who previously had to change the name of its cloud based storage system “SkyDrive” (now known as “OneDrive”). This name change was prompted by a decision of the English Chancery Division in 2011 that the name “SkyDrive” likely confused consumers into thinking that SkyDrive was a Sky PLC service and therefore its name infringed upon Sky’s trademark.

The more tech savvy readers may question any confusion between Sky, the satellite television provider, with Skype, the popular video calling service. The court however was of the view that more regular consumers may confuse the two, some of whom may even think that Skype is a subsidiary of Sky.

The position is made more complex by the astonishing rate at which large corporations are expanding their global reach and their range of technological products. Sky PLC is a good example of this, even changing their name recently from British Sky Broadcasting PLC to Sky PLC in recognition that they are now an international multi-media corporation rather than a national satellite television company. When Skype was founded in 2003, it must have seemed like they had very little in common with BSkyB, who itself had only recently launched its Sky+ service, allowing customers the option to digitally record their favourite television programmes. Fast forward a decade however and Sky offers a wide package, which includes Sky Broadband, Sky Talk and Sky Go. The advent of smart phones means that it is now possible to watch Sky or to Skype friends on the same device, and the decision between using Sky or Skype can be reduced to a rapid glance at identically sized logos on a 5 inch screen.
The decision means that Skype, like Sky Drive, may eventually be forced into changing its name so not to infringe Sky’s trademark. Although this case related only to Skype’s registration of the name, not to its actual use, it may give Sky encouragement to pursue further action against Skype.

This ruling should also serve as a warning for small tech start up companies with big ambitions to think carefully about its name. It may not be on the radar of Sky, or Google, or Facebook just yet, but one day it may be. Massive value can accrue in a name, and a decision like this can be hugely detrimental to a company’s value. It is therefore not expected that Microsoft will accept this latest ruling without a fight. They have the option of appealing the decision to the European Court of Justice, and the early signals are that they intend on doing so. Watch this space. 

Andrew Smith
Senior Solicitor