SCO Takes Aim at More Targets

By Jason Brooks  |  Posted 2003-06-24

SCO Takes Aim at More Targets

If youve had a hard time wrapping your mind around The SCO Groups intellectual property campaign, I dont blame you.

Getting a handle on just whats at issue and on what it all means has been particularly tough because the body of SCOs allegations has swollen in number and scope since this all began in January, when SCO moved to enforce licensing on particular Unix software libraries. From there, SCO launched a legal action against IBM, alleging improper contribution of SCO-owned ideas and code to Linux.

Alongside the specific action its taken against IBM in the courts, SCO has worked to make its case in the court of public opinion. In a series of press interviews, analyst calls and warning letters to businesses running Linux, SCO has stated that large chunks of its source code are present in the Linux kernel.

SCOs made some effort to back up these claims by showing selected pieces of source code to reporters and analysts who agree to a strict non-disclosure agreement. Those whove seen the code report that common chunks do appear in the portions of Unix and Linux source as shown them by SCO, but too little information is currently available to judge the issue. (For a take on SCOs code presentation from an open-source developer, check out this article at Linux Journal.)

Last week, SCO expanded its initial demand for $1 billion in damages from IBM to $3 billion; announced that it had revoked IBMs license to distribute its own Unix flavor, AIX; and got a bit more specific about the intellectual property over which its arguing infringement.

SCO now asserts that NUMA (Non Uniform Memory access), RCU (Read Copy Update) and SMP (symmetric multiprocessing), technologies developed by Unix licensee Sequent Computer Systems (now owned by IBM), are derivative works of SCOs intellectual property, and by contributing these technologies to Linux, IBM has violated SCOs property rights. (Robert X. Cringely has written an interesting piece on the issue. Check it out here.)

SCO owns the trunk

?"> SCO owns the trunk?

As SCOs intellectual property campaign has expanded, so, too, has the group of potential targets grown. In an interview last week with Cnet, SCOs Darl McBride said: "We think of this as a tree. We have the tree trunk, with Unix System 5 running right down the middle of the trunk. That is our core ownership position on Unix."

In an interview with Byte, SCOs Chris Sontag went further by stating, "we believe that Unix System V provided the basic building blocks for all subsequent computer operating systems, and that they all tend to be derived from Unix System V (and therefore are claimed as SCOs intellectual property)."

By asserting ownership claims over works broadly defined as derivative of Unix, SCOs managed to inflate the group of possible SCO targets potentially to include Apples OS X, the BSDs, nearly every flavor of commercial Unix and even Microsofts Windows.

As for the licensing agreement that Microsoft recently signed with SCO for a reported $10 million, Sontag told Byte that the deal was for an applications interface layer. This means that to the extent that Microsoft products partake in the eternal form of "Unixness," (the exact definition of which no one has concretely pinned down) Microsoft owes royalties to SCO.

I know that Microsoft had been emerging for many as the imagined Mr. Big behind SCOs IP chicanery, but if any firm can be identified so far as a powerful industry buddy for SCO, its Sun Microsystems, the only firm that SCO has identified as paid-up in the Unixness licensing department. Whats more, Sun has been quick to trumpet its good relations with SCO in advertisements, contrasting themselves to those swashbuckling code-lifters over at IBM.

Whats the endgame

?"> Whats the endgame?

Theres no question that most modern operating systems trace back in some way to Unix. Unix concepts and internals have been taught in university computer science departments for many years now, and industry and government standards such as those for POSIX compliance have imposed a sort of Unixness on products far removed from the ancestral Unix source that SCO has come to own.

Does this mean, then, that SCO owns a piece of every modern operating system? The last time the owner of Unix attempted to assert this sort of control—in a case between Unix System Laboratories and the backers and originators of the BSD (Berkeley Software Design) operating system—the matter ended in a sealed settlement that severed BSD from AT&T and opened the way to free distribution of BSD.

Matters may have been more clear if that case had been allowed to run its course, but its encouraging to note that the judge in that case refused to grant USL a preliminary injunction, citing the improbability that USLs copyright and trade secret claims would prove successful at trial.

Now SCOs moving to press the issue again. If its successful—which I heavily doubt—the repercussions will stretch far beyond Big Blue and its penguinista pals.

Whos SCO coming after next? Talk to me at

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