29 May 2003 Novell has revealed that it and not SCO Group owns both the patents and the copyrights to the Unix operating system, a revelation that could seriously undermine SCO’s $1 billion lawsuit against IBM and its campaign against the open source operating system Linux.
The revelation was made in an open letter to SCO CEO Darl McBride, in which Novell CEO Jack Messman re-asserted Novell’s ownership of the Unix intellectual property and claimed that SCO had repeatedly offered to buy it from Novell in recent months.
“SCO continues to say that it owns the Unix System V patents, yet it must know that it does not… Contrary to SCO’s assertions, SCO is not the owner of the Unix copyrights… a review of the asset transfer agreement between Novell and SCO confirms it,” wrote Messman.
He added: “The 1995 agreement governing SCO’s purchase of Unix from Novell does not convey to SCO the associated 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”.
The revelation will not only undermine SCO’s $1 billion lawsuit against IBM, but also its claims that source code has been copied from its UnixWare operating system directly into Linux.
However, Messman has also made light of SCO’s lack of clarity and its unwillingness so far to be more specific about exactly what elements of UnixWare and System V, upon which UnixWare is based, that it feels have been ripped off.
SCO, says Messman, has repeatedly failed to offer full disclosure to Novell about the nature of its claims.
“SCO claims it has specific evidence supporting its allegation against the Linux community. It is time to substantiate that claim or recant the sweeping and unsupported allegation made in your letter.”
“Absent such action, it will be apparent to all that SCO’s true intent is to sow fear, uncertainty and doubt about Linux in order to extort payments from Linux distributors and users,” wrote Messman.
SCO Group responded to Messman’s harsh criticisms with a statement released this morning. In it, SCO claims that the patents and copyrights are irrelevant — regardless of its own attempts to buy them from Novell — and adds that the legal contracts it has are worth far more.
“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,” concludes SCO’s statement.
However, with the computer industry coalescing around Linux as the main alternative to Microsoft Windows, SCO Group is likely to face a major fight in asserting its claims.
Like many software vendors, Novell has allied its interests with Linux as a means of escaping Microsoft’s increasing dominance in its own Windows environment.