Trial set to determine what SCO owes Novell

Finale of Unix, UnixWare copyright case could be the last nail in SCO's coffin

Novell will head to court this April to find out what it is owed, if anything, by SCO, which had been trying to earn royalties from Unix code it did not own.

The four-day trial before Federal Judge Dale Kimball, who issued a ruling in Novell's favor Aug. 10, 2007 over ownership of Unix and UnixWare copyrights, could spell the final death blow for SCO.

The trial is slated to begin April 29 and is the continuation of proceedings that were suspended in September when SCO filed for Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.

Chapter 11 protects a company from its creditors while it undergoes a financial reorganization.

SCO's undoing has come from its own bravado and strategy to focus on lawsuits instead of product development. SCO sells Unix-based software technology and mobile services, including UnixWare for enterprise applications and SCO OpenServer for small and midsize businesses. In 2003, SCO claimed that Linux was an illegal derivative of the Unix, which SCO said it had purchased from Novell in 1995.

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, suing the company in 2004 alleging that Novell falsely claimed it owned rights to Unix.

The case landed before Judge Kimball in 2006 and he concluded that Novell indeed owned the copyright to Unix. Jim Zemlin, CEO of the Linux Foundation, told Network World in September, "SCO could have chosen a path similar to Red Hat to offer open source solutions and value-added services around that, but instead SCO chose a path of litigation."

Novell has said it is not interested in waging any copyright-infringement claims over Unix. "We're not interested in suing people over Unix," Novell spokesman Bruce Lowry told the IDG News Service in August.

In September, The Wall Street Journal described the ruling against SCO as "a boon to the 'open source' software movement."

But experts say Unix is filled with technology that carries copyrights tied to many different companies and that it would be a nightmare to open source the Unix code collectively.

Instead, Novell would have to pick and choose pieces to open-source, a process that could begin once the trial has ended.

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