Rupert Murdoch claims to own the “Sky” in “Skype”

The most absurd legal case of the year?

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I have to confess that when I first heard the news that Rupert Murdoch's BSkyB had launched a legal challenge to Skype I thought April Fool's Day had come early, not least because the basis of the lawsuit is that the company claims to own the "Sky" in "Skype".

But it transpired that the case was genuine, and that BSkyB has been ensconced in a legal battle with Skype for the past five years. The news emerged only after a brief reference to the legal action in the 250-page document announcing Skype's Wall Street flotation.

A spokesman for Sky said: "The key contention in the dispute is that the brands 'Sky' and 'Skype' will be considered confusingly similar by members of the public."

To which I can only reply that I have never linked the two and can't think of anyone who has. But it seems that the EU has upheld Sky's complaint and, should Skype lose its forthcoming appeal, the company may be forced to change its name.

One wonders if others who have had the temerity to use the word "sky" in their work will now fall foul of the Dirty Digger. The Media Blog names some of those who may need to watch their back here.

UPDATE: BSkyB has been in touch to point out that the dispute concerns several trademark applications filed by Skype, including, but not limited to, television-related goods and services. It's fair to say that were Skype's name to appear on a set-top box, Sky would have a better case. But I'm sure most people could make the distinction.

Sky may claim its customer research suggests members of the public would be confused by the similarity, but the key question is this: did any of the people surveyed consider "Sky" and "Skype" similar before they were asked?

George Eaton is senior online editor of the New Statesman.

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