The cloud industry has felt the wrath of Rupert Murdoch’s legal team more than most in recent years, as the broadcaster has taken against several firms for daring to use the word “Sky” in their branding.
Microsoft encountered the company’s commitment to preserving the use of the word “Sky” for its own business ventures back in August 2013, when it was made to change the name of its SkyDrive online storage service to OneDrive following a legal challenge.
Voice over IP messaging service Skype was subjected to something similar after taking steps to register its name with the Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market (OHIM) in 2004, paving the way for a decade-long legal wrangle.
A European Union ruling in May 2015 concluded there was a risk consumers may confuse the two brands and their respective offerings, prompting Microsoft – who acquired Skype in May 2011 – to announce plans to appeal.
Microsoft has continued to operate the service under the Skype name since then and has faced no direct pressure to rebrand it. Meanwhile, as far as we know, Sky has not (yet) pursued an infringement claim against the company for doing so.
Sky’s earlier success with getting Microsoft to change the name of SkyDrive has been implicated in the firm’s latest trademark dispute involving public sector-focused provider Skyscape Cloud Services.
At least that was the name of the company until today, when Skyscape officially rebranded itself as UK Cloud, bringing an end to its long-running dispute with Sky, who claimed the name infringed on its trademarks.
While the pair are said to have been embroiled in a letter writing campaign for the past two years with regard to the name, Sky stopped short of launching legal proceedings against Skyscape.
Concerned about the uncertainty surrounding its right to use the name long-term, Skyscape sought to secure a declaration of non-infringement from Sky earlier this year by embarking on a legal challenge of its own.
The case was dismissed, and – as a result – Skyscape has decided to rebrand, rather than appeal or pursue any further stake or claim on the name.
In a statement to Ahead in the Clouds, Simon Hansford, CEO of the company formerly known as Skyscape, said the rebrand was its way of drawing a line under the matter.
“With the High Court’s decision, we felt the logical way for us to move forward and continue delivering exceptional assured cloud services to our customers would be to rebrand as UK Cloud,” he said.
“As a company, we decided to focus our time and money on creating a brand that showcased our unequivocal focus on the UK public sector and reaffirms our commitment to the market, rather than tying ourselves up in endless and costly legal proceedings.”
According to the company’s most recent set of results, for the financial year ending 31 March 2016, its services are used in around 200 active public sector cloud projects, while its revenue has risen from £3.7m to £32.1m over the past two years.
Public sector vs. general public perception
What’s interesting about the Skyscape case is, unlike the Microsoft SkyDrive and Skype debacles, the company involved is not a consumer-facing brand and its services are not marketed to the general public. Skyscape only sells to the public sector.
So, while the brand and its services might be well-known within government procurement circles, awareness of it within the general population is likely to be far lower. And, so too, one might argue is the risk of consumers confusing the two brands, which is the crux of Sky’s past issues with SkyDrive and Skype.
Hansford even raised this point with the High Court, to little avail, stating: “Given the ways we promote our services and the procurement frameworks through which we contract, I do not believe the general public is ever likely to become aware of our business or the services we offer; they simply are not relevant to consumers.”
While the rationale behind the rebrand does make sense, the circumstances surrounding it seem a tad unfair. Particularly when Skyscape has spent so much time building up its brand, as wells working to drive up the use of cloud services within the wider UK public sector.