EBay to offload Skype to private investment group

LONDON - Ebay is to sell its internet telephone service Skype to a group of private investors for an undisclosed sum, the online auction giant is expected to announce today.

The buyers are likely to include the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, launched by Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen in July, reports suggest.

Other firms include London-based Index Ventures and the private equity firm Sliver Lake Partners.

In May, eBay said it would look to sell Skype for at least $2bn (£1.2bn).

The service, which allows free "peer-to-peer" international calls, is expected to rake in more than $600m (£366m) in revenue this year, with a revenue outlook for 2011 exceeding $1bn (£611m).

In 2005, eBay outbid Google and Yahoo! to acquire Skype in a $4.1bn (£2.5bn) deal, of which only $3.1bn (£1.9bn) was paid.

Ebay envisioned Skype allowing buyers and sellers converse in real-time during its online transactions, a plan which was never implemented, forcing the company to write down $900m (£550m) off Skype's valuation.

Ebay announced earlier this year it would spin off Skype in an initial public offering for 2010, after acknowledging the company had few "synergies" with its core online auction business.

More than 480m people use the service worldwide, compared to just 54m when it was acquired by eBay.

Last month, eBay faced a court battle with Joltid, the company owned by Skype's founders -- Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis -- which holds the rights to Sykpe's under-lying technology.

The case is due to be heard by a UK court in 2010 however its not clear if the sale of the company will affect Joltid's legal claims.

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