By Stephen Shankland
Staff Writer, CNET News.com
May 28, 2003, 7:01 AM PT
update Novell, the second in the chain of four companies to own rights to the Unix operating system, is challenging the copyright infringement claims that the current owner of those rights, SCO Group, is making against Linux.
In a letter to SCO released Wednesday, Novell asserted that it retains Unix patents and copyrights, demanded that SCO reveal where Unix source code has been copied into Linux and raised its own threat of legal action to compensate for damage it says has been done to customers, programmers and companies using Linux.
"To Novell's knowledge, the 1995 agreement governing SCO's purchase of Unix from Novell does not convey to SCO the associated copyrights," Novell Chief Executive Jack Messman said in the letter to SCO Chief Executive Darl McBride. He said that SCO evidently realizes this because "over the last few months you have repeatedly asked Novell to transfer the copyrights to SCO, requests that Novell has rejected."
But SCO Group said the issue is beside the point because it bought full rights to the Unix intellectual property, including its copyrights, patents and the right to enforce those patents, according to Chris Sontag, head of the SCOsource effort to derive more money from the Unix intellectual property.
"We have enforcement rights to any appropriate patents that are still viable and related to Unix," Sontag said in a Tuesday interview. He did say that Novell and AT&T, the original creator of Unix, still had some Unix patents, but that SCO has "all the rights and control of all copyrights and contracts."
SCO's claims are the basis of a $1 billion lawsuit against IBM alleging that Big Blue misappropriated SCO's Unix trade secrets by building Unix intellectual property into Linux and violated its Unix contract with SCO. More recently, SCO has claimed that Unix code has been copied line-by-line into Linux, sometimes obscured to disguise its origin, an accusation that cuts to the core of the open-source philosophy that underlies Linux.
SCO recently sent threatening letters to 1,500 of the world's largest companies, saying use of Linux could make them the target of legal action based on copyrighted Unix source code allegedly copied into Linux.
Novell's move will come at nearly the same time that SCO Group reports results for its second quarter of fiscal 2003. Two weeks ago, SCO said it expected net income of $4 million for the quarter, the company's first profit.
Patents aren't a part of SCO's suit against IBM, but Sontag said SCO doesn't rule out the possibility of adding patent-based claims to its suit in the future. In any case, though, the company believes it has a stronger position with its claim that IBM's actions breached its contract with SCO Group.
"Copyrights and patents are protection against strangers. Contracts are what you use against parties you have relationships with," Sontag said. "They end up being far stronger than anything you do could do with a patent."
Unix, more than 30 years old, has a long and complicated history. Unix was initially developed by AT&T, though many extensions to the operating system were created at the University of California's Berkeley campus.
AT&T sold the rights to the operating system to Novell, which later sold them to the Santa Cruz Operation. That company renamed itself Tarantella at the same time that it sold the Unix intellectual property to Linux seller Caldera International, which in turn changed its name to SCO Group to reflect the fact that most of its revenue comes from the Unix products it acquired from the Santa Cruz Operation.
Novell and AT&T still have patents related to Unix, Sontag said, but Tarantella doesn't. "Tarantella has no leftover intellectual property from the sale of our Unix business to Caldera. There is no Unix IP ownership at Tarantella anymore," said spokeswoman Lynn Schroeder.
Linux, meanwhile, is a derivative of Unix with a completely separate and freely available code base. Linus Torvalds began the Linux project less than 12 years ago, piggybacking on Richard Stallman's GNU (Gnu's Not Unix ) project that began in 1984 to clone Unix but discard its proprietary nature in favor of an open, sharing philosophy.
Linux now has the backing of all the major server makers and many software companies. Analyst firm IDC said about 13 percent of all servers in 2002 shipped with Linux. By 2007, that number is expected to exceed 25 percent, though the fraction of money spent on Linux servers likely will be closer to 15 percent.
SCO's actions have triggered derision from many Linux advocates. And industry analysts have said SCO appears to be shifting from a company that sells software products to a company that licenses intellectual property.
SCO's actions triggered more intense scrutiny last week when it licensed Unix intellectual property to Microsoft, a Linux foe that has been trying for years to attract Unix customers to its own Windows operating system.Posted by Muddy at May 28, 2003 11:26 AM | TrackBack