Novell Blasts SCO's Linux Position, Claims Unix Ownership

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Novell just threw a huge monkey wrench into The SCO Group's Linux game plan.

Novell claims that it--not SCO--retains the underlying copyrights and patents to Unix technology that SCO has claimed. Citing that intellectual property, SCO, lead by CEO Darl McBride, has threatened legal action against some 1,500 companies using Linux. SCO has alleged that parts of the Linux operating system infringe on that Unix intellectual property. (SCO letter to Unix customers) That threat came on the heels of a breach-of-contract suit SCO filed against IBM, alleging that IBM's Linux push threatened to destroy Unix.

In a letter to McBride posted on Novell's Web site, Novell Chairman Jack Messman said Novell retains those rights, which didn't flow to SCO under its 1995 licensing agreement with the networking software giant. Messman also asked McBride to specify which parts of Unix System V code has been copied into Linux. (Messman letter)

"We believe it unlikely that SCO can demonstrate that it has any ownership interest whatsoever in those copyrights. Apparently you share this view, since over the last few months you have repeatedly asked Novell to transfer the copyrights to SCO--requests that Novell has rejected," Messman wrote.

Last month, SCO set off a firestorm among the open-source faithful with its charge that Linux derives from patented Unix technology. Many openly scorned the move as an attempt by a troubled company to be acquired. That move followed its suit against IBM, a company with arguably as many lawyers as technologists. (The IBM lawsuit)

The fact that SCO participated in the UnitedLinux effort and itself contributed code under the General Public License was viewed by many in the Linux world as tacit acknowledgement of the legality of that license and the open-source process. Community members including Linux creator Linus Torvalds blasted SCO's move and demanded more details about the technology SCO was seeking to protect. (Torvalds on suit)

Linux advocate Bruce Perens lauded Novell's move in his own posting. He and others said they view Novell as an ally. Novell reinvigorated its own Linux push in April.

"It would be an understatement to say that this leaves SCO in a bad position," Perens wrote. "The company has loudly and repeatedly asserted that they were the owner of the Unix intellectual property, all of the way back to AT&T's original development of the system 30 years ago. They've lied to their stockholders, their customers and partners, the 1,500 companies that they threatened, the press and the public." (More from Perens)

SCO issued a statement Wednesday noting that its lawsuit against IBM does not involve patents or copyrights and that its complaint specifically alleges breach of contract.

"SCO owns the contract rights to the Unix operating system. SCO has the contractual right to prevent improper donations of Unix code, methods or concepts into Linux by any Unix vendor," the statement said. "Copyrights and patents are protection against strangers. Contracts are what you use against parties you have relationships with. From a legal standpoint, contracts end up being far stronger than anything you could do with copyrights."

SCO's lawsuit against IBM does not involve patents or copyrights. SCO's complaint specifically alleges breach of contract, and SCO intends to protect and enforce all of the contracts that the company has with more than 6,000 licensees.

"We formed SCOsource in January 2003 to enforce our Unix rights, and we intend to aggressively continue in this successful path of operation," the statement also said. "SCO intends to protect and enforce all of the contracts that the company has with more than 6,000 licensees."

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