• United States
by Robert Mcmillan

Open source advocate fires back at SCO

Jun 19, 20033 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsIBMLinux

Just days after The SCO Group escalated its legal battle with IBM over alleged violations of the two companies’ Unix source code contract, open source advocate Eric Raymond has responded, saying that he possesses evidence that could undermine some of SCO’s legal arguments in the case.

Raymond claims to have collected the names of 60 Unix users who are willing to sign affidavits that, he claims, will disprove SCO’s claims that its Unix System V source code, which forms the basis of IBM’s AIX Unix, contains trade secrets.

Raymond declined to comment on what he plans to do with his evidence, citing legal reasons.

Misappropriation of trade secrets is one of six causes of action listed by SCO in its filings with the District of Utah U.S. District Court relating to the case, but Raymond claims that the Unix source code has been so loosely guarded over the last 20 years that it is now impossible to legally prove that SCO’s code contains trade secrets.

“There’s a pattern of what a lawyer would undoubtedly interpret as a negligent failure to enforce trade secrecy,” said Raymond. “They’re claiming they have a trade secret while also having a history of failing to enforce the restrictions that would back up that claim.”

The open source advocate has been collecting information from Unix users relevant to this case since the end of May, when he set up a “No Secrets” Web page. The page asks readers to contact Raymond if they had “read access to proprietary Unix source code… under circumstances where either no non-disclosure agreement was required or whatever non-disclosure agreement you had was not enforced.”

So far about 150 people have responded, Raymond said.

Raymond’s efforts amount to “a big waste of time,” according to SCO’s senior vice president and general manager of SCOsource Chris Sontag. “What he’s doing is baseless because the important point is that the Unix System V source code has never been provided to any entity without a full source code agreement with full confidentiality, and very strict provisions.”

Even if individuals were able to get access to the System V source, as Raymond maintains, that would not signal the end of SCO’s trade secret claims. It would merely constitute a violation of SCO’s source code agreement on the part of whichever company allowed the source to be viewed, Sontag said.

Raymond disputes Sontag’s claims. “It’s public information that AT&T, its successors, and Unix vendors such as Sun routinely sold source licences to universities which then exposed the code to thousands of students and faculty without requiring an NDA or confidentiality pledges from anyone,” he said in an e-mail.

The No Secrets site could theoretically help IBM’s case, depending on how Raymond’s Linux users got their access to the code, said Jeffrey Neuburger, a technology lawyer with Brown Raysman Millstein Felder & Steiner, who has been following the SCO-IBM case. If users legitimately had access to the System V source code, it “would certainly undermine (SCO’s) trade secret and misappropriation claims,” he said. “If these 60 people that have signed the affidavits have stolen the source code, that wouldn’t help.”