Skype, the popular telephone software platform owned by Microsoft, has lost its latest trademark tussle in Europe with British satellite broadcaster Sky.
A European Union (E.U.) court has ruled that the “Skype” brand is similar to Sky’s, and there is a “likelihood of confusion between the figurative and word sign SKYPE and the word mark SKY,” according to a court-issued press release. Explaining the decision, the court said:
As regards the visual, phonetic and conceptual similarity of the signs at issue, the Court has confirmed that the pronunciation of the vowel ‘y’ is no shorter in the word ‘skype’ than it is in the word ‘sky’.
In addition, the word ‘sky’, part of the basic vocabulary of the English language, remains clearly identifiable in the word ‘skype’, in spite of the fact that the latter is written as only one word. Last, the element ‘sky’ in the word ‘skype’ can perfectly well be identified by the relevant public, even if the remaining element ‘pe’ has no specific meaning.
The origin of this case dates back more than ten years to 2004 when Skype was still a young startup emerging out of Europe. The company applied for a Community trademark for its name and distinctive “cloud” logo. A Community trademark is a trademark that is either still pending registration, or has been registered at an E.U.-wide level, as opposed to nationally.
Sky PLC, then known as British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB), opposed the filing stating it believed it would cause confusion, given that it had filed a similar Community trademark in 2003. This latest case, brought in front of the General Court in Luxembourg, was Skype’s attempt to have an earlier ruling against it overturned. And it seems it has failed in its efforts. Skype has two months to appeal the decision in the same court.
It’s worth noting here that this doesn’t mean that Skype will be forced to change its name or logo — at least, that’s not part of Sky’s intentions at the moment. All this means is that Sky has prevented Microsoft from registering the Skype name and logo trademarks, which in theory could mean another company could come along and use the word “Skype” for another product.
Despite a number of corporate name changes in the U.K. since the early 1990s, the British broadcaster, which counts Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation as one of its biggest shareholders, has always colloquially been known as “Sky.” And it’s this brand the company has fought fiercely to protect.
Indeed, today’s news comes a year after another high-profile battle between Microsoft and Sky, when the former was forced to change the name of its cloud-based storage service from SkyDrive to OneDrive after objections from the British broadcaster. Prior to that, Sky took issue with Livescribe’s Sky wireless smartpen, which eventually led to Livescribe rebranding the device in Europe in 2013.