Judge overturns 2007 Unix copyright decision

Ruling reignites disputes with SCO over who owns Unix code

A federal appeals court Monday overturned a 2007 decision that Novell owns the Unix code and sent the case back to trial, clearing the way for SCO to pursue a $1 billion copyright infringement case against IBM.

A federal appeals court Monday overturned a 2007 decision that Novell owns the Unix code and remanded the case for trial.

In a 54-page decision, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals said it was tossing out the 2007 summary judgment decision by Judge Dale Kimball of the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah, which found that Novell was the owner of Unix and UnixWare copyrights.

The move is another chapter in a case that appeared to have come to a close nearly two years ago.

Novell said it is carefully studying the court's decision, and 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," Novell said. "We are pleased that the decision affirmed the district court's monetary award of approximately $3 million from SCO to Novell."

SCO was equally itching to take up the fight again.

"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.

Monday, the Circuit Court also ruled on other issues in the case and remanded those for trial, including issues around Novell's alleged duties to transfer ownership rights to the computer code in question.

A summary judgment in the SCO vs. Novell case was issued on Aug. 10, 2007, when 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.

Earlier this month, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Kevin Gross ordered a Chapter 11 trustee to take the reins at SCO, putting CEO Darl McBride and other executives on the outside looking in.

The federal appeals court Monday moved the 2007 decision aside and opened up another round in the SCO/Novell saga.

The case traces its root to 1993 when Novell paid more than $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.

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