Microsoft Covers Back With SCO Unix License

The crusade by the SCO Group to protect its Unix intellectual property took an unexpected turn last week.

The crusade by the SCO Group to protect its Unix intellectual property took an unexpected turn last week when Microsoft Corp. said it was licensing the Unix source code and patent from the company.

"SCO approached us a couple of months ago, and they had a valid IP claim, and, as we do quite regularly, we agreed to a broad IP license with SCO and as such have stepped out of the fray," said Alex Mercer, a Microsoft spokeswoman, in Redmond, Wash.

In the last month, SCO, of Lindon, Utah, has made a number of moves, charging that IBM, Linux and many of SCOs own customers are violating SCOs Unix IP.

Mercer said it was not Microsofts intent to exploit the IP license as a way to fund SCOs campaign against IBM and Linux—which SCO is suing for $1 billion—and against Linux. "There is absolutely no correlation between the IBM suit and our IP license with SCO," she said.

Furthermore, Microsofts agreement is not an admission that the company and its Services for Unix product violated SCOs IP but rather is a pre-emptive move to avoid possible complications, said Mercer. Details about the financial value and conditions of the Microsoft-SCO deal are confidential, and Mercer declined to say whether Microsoft is contemplating other deals with SCO.

As for SCO, its legal moves are not sitting well with some customers. "More and more, it looks like SCO is just scratching the sides of the well as they plummet to their death," said one SCO user, who requested anonymity.

A Unix/Linux programmer in Boston also questioned whether Microsoft really needed another Unix license given that it held one of the original ATT Unix licenses, the same one Sun Microsystems Inc. has. Microsofts Mercer declined to comment.

But Chris Sontag, senior vice president and general manager for SCOs intellectual-property division, said the licensing deal ensured Microsofts intellectual-property compliance across all Microsoft solutions and will better enable Microsoft to ensure compatibility with Unix and Unix services. "There are many companies in the IT industry who acknowledge and respect the intellectual property of software," said Sontag. "Microsoft is showing the importance of maintaining compatibility with Unix and Microsofts software solutions."

The Open Source Initiative last week hit back, updating its attack against SCO. OSI, a nonprofit educational association with offices in Palo Alto, Calif., is one of the principal advocacy groups for the open-source community. In a position paper, OSI argues that an SCO victory could do serious damage to the open-source community. "SCOs implication of wider claims could turn Linux into an intellectual-property minefield, with potential users and allies perpetually wary of being mugged by previously unasserted IP claims," it said.