Microsoft have lost their second legal battle in the European courts against UK pay TV broadcaster Sky, part of the BskyB group, over trademarking brand name, Skype. According to BskyB lawyers the brand name Skype sounded just too close to Sky, their premium pay TV channel and any reference to a trademark including the ethereal reference to the word ‘sky’ trod on their till-like toes. Sky holds a European trademark on audiovisual goods, telephony and software-related services.
Skype’s call and video conference platform launched in 2003 and was bought by eBay in 2005 for $2.65 billion and then by Microsoft in 2011 for $8.5 billion. Skype has been a hit from the start. As a mostly free service (ex landline or mobile calls) the telecommunications application software, provides much welcomed free video chat and very wide access from any devices via the Internet to desktops, laptops, tablets or smartphones. Popular for sending instant messages, exchanging files and video messages nationally and internationally, its impact in the corporate collaboration technology space has broadened substantially following Microsoft’s purchase (now renamed ‘Skype for Business’).
In their news release the EU General Court stated: “Conceptually, the figurative element conveys no concept, except perhaps that of a cloud, which would further increase the likelihood of the element ‘sky’ being recognized within the word element ‘skype’, for clouds are to be found ‘in the sky’ and thus may readily be associated with the word ‘sky”. For real….? Back in 2013, Microsoft had to back down and rebrand their ‘SkyDrive’ service to ‘OneDrive’ after an ‘undisclosed’ out of court settlement with BskyB.
BskyB has successfully seen off several trademark challenges since 2004/5 with Skype, so the moral of the tale for any aspiring business brand is get in early to register your brand and any trademarks from the start – and think broadly about your description and services. This way, whatever happens in the marketplace as technology and media formats change, you can still come out fighting from your corner and see off big competition in an increasingly crowded brand space.
Is this ruling reasonable? Microsoft are intending to appeal, success based on their history is doubtful here – but tell us what you think?