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Novell, SCO welcome return to court over Unix copyright

Judge overturns 2007 decision; new trial coming

Both SCO and Novell are anticipating their next day in court to settle who owns Unix copyrights after a judge Monday overturned a 2007 decision that favored Novell. In a 54-page decision, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals said it was reversing the 2007 summary judgment decision by U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball of the District Court for the District of Utah that Novell was the owner of Unix and UnixWare copyrights. The case was sent back to trial.

Novell said it was carefully studying the court’s decision, but said it is not backing down. “Novell intends to vigorously defend the case and the interests of its Linux customers and the greater open source community. We remain confident in the ultimate outcome of the dispute,” said a statement from Novell emailed to Network World. “We are pleased that the decision affirmed the district court’s monetary award of approximately $3 million from SCO to Novell … Precisely what will happen next in the lawsuit remains to be seen, especially in light of the pending SCO bankruptcy and the recent court decision to appoint a Chapter 11 Trustee to take over the business affairs of the company,” Novell said. SCO also is looking forward to having another day in court. "We are pleased that the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed material aspects of the district court’s 2007 summary judgment against SCO. Importantly, the court remanded the case for trial, and we look forward to the opportunity to present the case to a jury,” SCO said in a statement emailed to Network World. A summary judgment in the SCO vs. Novell case was issued on Aug. 10, 2007, when Judge Kimball ruled that Novell owned the Unix and UnixWare copyrights. Eventually, the district court awarded a $2.5 million judgment to Novell. Shortly thereafter, SCO filed for Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. The federal appeals court Monday moved the 2007 decision aside and opened up another round in the five year saga. The case traces its root to 1993 when Novell paid over $300 million to purchase UNIX System Laboratories, which owned the UNIX copyrights and licenses. Two years later, Novell decided to sell the UNIX business to SCO. The two have differing stories on whether that sale included ownership of the copyright to the code. In 2004, Novell claimed it owned the rights to Unix after SCO had decided on litigation a year earlier to enforce Unix copyright. In 2003, SCO claimed that Linux was an illegal derivative of the Unix, which SCO said it had purchased from Novell. SCO then went head-hunting, picking IBM as its first target in a $1 billion copyright infringement suit claiming Big Blue had violated SCO’s rights by contributing Unix code to Linux. Microsoft joined the fray shortly thereafter, agreeing to license Unix code from SCO and then using the association to fuel confusion over open source licenses and the liability they could carry for corporate users. SCO eventually sent letters to some 1,500 large companies warning them that their use of Linux could infringe on SCO’s intellectual property. SCO then turned on Novell when it claimed Unix ownership. Follow John on Twitter

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