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Skype Founders Oust Joost Chairman

The founders of Skype, locked in bitter litigation with eBay, have booted Mike Volpi as chairman of their Web TV firm, Joost, hardening the litigation's battle lines. Volpi had recently become a partner at Index Ventures, which is partnering with eBay in a reconstituted Skype ownership.

The complex shuffle is the latest chapter in an ongoing saga in which Skype co-founders Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis have turned on eBay, which had paid $2.6 billion for Skype in 2006. The Skype founders have taken eBay to court in the U.K., claiming that when eBay bought Skype, it failed to purchase the underlying software crucial to Skype's operation.

eBay has said Skype could become non-functioning if it loses the litigation with the Skype founders. The case, which pits eBay against the Zennstrom-Friis JoltID company, is scheduled to go to trial next June.

On its face, the situation seemed ready for a peaceful solution when Volpi, still chairman of the Skype founders' Joost, joined Index Ventures, which is an investor in the new Skype ownership consortium formed days ago. With Volpi chairman of Joost and a principal in Skype's new ownership structure, Volpi was looked at by some as a peacemaker between the two opposing sides.

That scenario has now disappeared with Volpi suddenly gone from Joost, which never gained much traction in the first place. In a terse statement, Joost, which is controlled by shareholders Zennstrom and Friis, said: "Mr. Volpi was removed from the Board of Directors and from his position as Chairman of Joost by shareholders. The company and its Board of Directors are conducting an investigation into Volpi's actions during his tenure as CEO and as Chairman.'

Earlier Zennstrom and Friis were reported to be making the rounds of investment firms to make a bid for Skype -- for less than eBay had originally paid for Skype.

eBay maintains that Skype has been successful, but it never fit with the online auction company's main business as hoped, and eBay moved to spin off the VoIP unit, most likely through an IPO. In recent days, eBay teamed up with Index Ventures, private equity firm Silver Lake Partners and Andreessen Horowitz, a venture capital firm, to create the new ownership structure for Skype.


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