Earlier this week, Retro Computers Ltd, maker of the ZX Spectrum Vega Plus handheld, announced that it had finally started to ship the first 400 units of its troubled console to crowdfunding backers, nearly two years after it was originally scheduled to launch.
"It has been a well documented long and difficult road," the company said, before adding, "Well, we have now proved all negative claims to be false." Unfortunately for everyone involved in the whole sorry saga, new information has now come to light revealing that Retro can no longer use the Sinclair or ZX Spectrum trademarks in conjunction with its beleaguered machine.
As reported by the BBC, broadcaster and rights-holder Sky made the decision to withdraw Retro Computers' use of the trademarks in May, following the company's persistent failure to deliver the Vega Plus to backers of the 2016 Vega crowdfunding campaign. Retro Computers' licence to use the trademarks will expire on August 7th.
"We would love to see the Vega+ consoles in the hands of fans," a Sky representative told the BBC, "However, as RCL has repeatedly failed to deliver and breached the terms of their licence, we have made the decision to end our working relationship." Sky notes that it had even granted Retro Computers an additional three months' use of the trademarks, "To give as many gaming fans as possible the chance to get their Vega+ console."
At this point, it's worth pausing to remember that the Vega Plus has, as the years have gone on, become embroiled in a very messy, very public he said/she said back-and-forth between Retro Computers' chairman Dr David Levy, managing director Suzanne Martin, and former directors Paul Andrews and Chris Smith. And with that, let us continue.
First to respond to the BBC's report were Andrews and Smith. Their joint statement, disseminated to press and dated August 2nd, reads:
"Paul Andrews and Chris Smith as joint 50 per cent shareholders of Retro Computers Ltd, called for a shareholders meeting with the aim of removing the current directors of the company, David Levy (also a 25 per cent shareholder in the company), Suzanne Martin, and Janko Mrsic-Flogel, and the replacement of them with an independent new director.
"This shareholder vote was initially called with the backing of a Sinclair Research Ltd officer, as evidenced by a chain of emails. A separate representative for Sinclair Research Ltd attended the first shareholder meeting, and suggested that a two week adjournment be allowed for Retro Computers Ltd directors to produce financial and other information requested by Sinclair Research Ltd, allowing a fair and balanced decision to be made. It transpired Retro Computers Ltd failed to provide Sinclair Research Ltd with any information within that two week period.
"At the second shareholders meeting David Levy used his power as chairman to rapidly close the shareholders meeting, and instead call for a vote by poll. He also used his powers to extend the time for that meeting to the maximum 30 days allowed under by law, setting it for 2nd August 2018.
"In response to the BBC article of the 1st August 2018 regarding the SKY withdrawal of licenses from Retro Computers Ltd, Paul Andrews reached out to what is believed to be the power of attorney of the Sinclair Research Ltd majority vote to ask their intentions, but no response was received.
"Paul Andrews and Chris Smith were informed today prior to the commencement of the meeting that Sinclair Research Ltd would be abstaining from the vote, and they would not be attending the meeting.
"Without Sinclair Research Ltd in attendance or a proxy vote, the majority vote of 75% required to pass the two resolutions cannot be reached. This leaves the current directors in place."
The statement also claims that Sinclair Research Ltd, which holds a 25 per cent stake in Retro Computers Ltd, has commented that it has "serious concerns regarding the solvency of the company and the ability to continue to trade and fulfil all of its obligations. The directors should consider the position and seek the appropriate advice as there is a real concern that the company is trading whilst insolvent."
As for Retro Computers Ltd, the company has now released a statement on Facebook, signed by current director Dr David Levy, regarding the BBC story:
"Yesterday, Leo Kelion from the BBC published an article stating that Sky Limited had withdrawn Retro Computers Limited's licence that granted us the use of the brand names Sinclair and ZXSpectrum. Mr Kelion claimed that "the decision was made" by Sky, in "May of this year". This statement is completely untrue. In fact in May of this year Sky awarded RCL a new contract with a one year extension. This agreement granted RCL a licence to produce 10,000 units of the Vega+; and was only issued after we satisfied them of our intentions to deliver to backers and because we were able to refute "allegations made by Paul Andrews". Mr Andrews' false allegations to Sky represents yet another attempt by him to stop backers receiving their Vega+s by halting production, which he did in fact achieve until we were able to satisfy Sky that we were indeed going to deliver.
"We have irrefutable evidence to support this assertion in the form of the new agreement sent to us by Sky.
"The BBC statement shows a continued bias in favour of Paul Andrews who has relentlessly tried to stop backers receiving their pledges while simultaneously claiming he is trying to help them.
"Last week we started shipping units to backers, and the only reason we managed to deliver any units was that we began shipping in secret.
"During our company's General Meeting held on June 18th, 2018, Paul Andrews, the company's former Managing Director, admitted receiving and/or intercepting confidential information belonging to Retro Computers Ltd and/or various of its directors. This included the admission that he had received, obtained and/or intercepted confidential Police and legally privileged correspondence. Two weeks ago we were made aware that Paul Andrews had publicly sanctioned the release of these illegally obtained documents. That General Meeting was recorded with the consent of all those present and a copy of the recording has been made available to the relevant investigatory authorities, including the police and the office of the Information Commissioner.
"For legal reasons, we are not saying any more about Mr Andrews' admission(s) during that meeting at the present time.
"It is, however, sadly true that Sky cancelled our licence just as we started shipping to backers. In their cancellation email Sky referenced the publication of hacked confidential documents from themselves. Now that Sky have seen that we are indeed shipping to backers we hope and expect that they will issue our company with a fresh licence.
"We shall issue further updates as and when we feel it is appropriate."
That's a lot of words to digest, but the crucial takeaway here very much appears to be Retro Computers Ltd's eventual admission that "Sky cancelled our licence just as we started shipping to backers" - and that, despite what it's opening paragraph might imply, it does not currently have a license to use the ZX Spectrum and Sinclair trademarks.
Right now, the only real losers in this graceless saga of egotistical oneupmanship are the 4,700 backers that helped raise over half a million pounds to fund the Vega Plus in March 2016. And with only a handful of the 400 machines that Retro Computers claimed to be sending out earlier this week seemingly publicly accounted for at present (and those reportedly of dubious quality), the scant light for backers currently comes from crowdfunding website Indiegogo.
In June, Indiegogo announced that it was working with collections agencies to recoup funds disbursed and to refund backers. The BBC says it understands that the company is still pursuing this course of action, despite Retro Computers' claims that consoles are being dispatched.