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Novell Tries to Shoot Down SCO IP Claims

Novell Tries to Shoot Down SCO IP Claims

This is the same story that ran the other day as the news broke except for the last paragraph.

Practically at the crack of dawn Wednesday morning Novell had what is basically a "cease and desist" letter hand-delivered to the SCO Group telling SCO that SCO doesn't own the Unix intellectual property that lies beneath the billion-dollar lawsuit that SCO has filed against IBM and the claims of possible infringement that SCO recently made to the biggest public companies in the world if they happen to run Linux on their systems.

SCO of course claims IBM pinched SVR5 trade secrets and threw them over the wall to Linux to forward its own massive Linux interests.

The letter, which Novell circulated right before SCO reported its second quarter results, says that Novell owns the Unix patents and copyrights and that SCO merely shares in certain rights that it acquired from Novell by way of the original SCO, the old Santa Cruz Operation.

Whether this gambit, which was reportedly run past many a corporate lawyer and executive over the Memorial Day weekend, can trump SCO's trade secrets charges against IBM remains to be seen.

Supposedly the original intention of the Novell-Santa Cruz deal was to transfer the IP, but it never happened and the SCO Group's only recourse would be to sue Novell for performance, a case that could take years to get to court and basically scuttle its suit against IBM in the meantime.

There has been some talk of Novell donating its IP holdings to the open source community, but that notion has evidently changed. It will now merely not enforce whatever rights it has, which folks say is as good as donating them to the community or putting them in the public domain.

SCO admits that Novell retains certain Unix copyrights and patents, but maintains that when it bought the Unix source code for millions of dollars it acquired the right to enforce the Unix IP rights should the need arise. Otherwise, it says, it would have bought "a bag of dirt." The opinion of companies coming out on Novell side supposedly holds that one can't defend what one doesn't own.

Novell's motive in writing the letter is reportedly connected to its decision to embrace Linux. Informed sources say Novell intends to port its flagging NetWare system to Linux by November under the code name Hamachi, which is young Yellowtail to sushi lovers. The follow-on is Maguro, Japanese for tuna.

Hamachi, aimed at knocking the Windows server for a loop, is supposed to include Novell's directory, file, print, web, install, admin, messaging and mail. Maguro, due in late 2004, is supposed to add search and an extensible file system. Whether the move snatches Novell's fat out of the fire, like other things, remains to be seen.

Novell reportedly didn't know until a couple of weeks ago that it still owned the Unix IP that SCO's case against IBM may depend on and only discovered it when researching its position in preparation for Hamachi. Naturally IBM is making what it can of the discovery in the hopes it kicks the stuffing out of the SCO suit. Whether there's any payoff in it for Novell out of IBM again remains to be seen.

Sources, by the way, say that both IBM and HP have been extorting companies and consortia to come up with prior art claims that would shoot down SCO's IP contentions. If SCO nails AIX - and it is threatening to lift IBM AIX license on June 13 - then HP-UX is reportedly in jeopardy too.

Novell's letter will reopen the barely healed over issue of why Microsoft took a license from SCO. Most people believe it was merely to legitimatize SCO's case, lend the dicey company some financial aid in the process, and shut down its great enemy Linux.

Meanwhile, a consortium of German users called Linuxtag, reportedly backed by the German government and the powerful German post office, has filed papers in a German court seeking an injunction against SCO and will move to press its grievance by the end of the week unless SCO produces proof of the IP claims that it made in those letters it sent to 1,500 CEOs of companies around the world such as Siemens. The Germans, who are very Linux prone, are concerned that SCO may demand royalties of them for using Linux.

Sources claim the Linuxtag action was a backup in case Novell chickened out.

More Stories By Maureen O'Gara

Maureen O'Gara the most read technology reporter for the past 20 years, is the Cloud Computing and Virtualization News Desk editor of SYS-CON Media. She is the publisher of famous "Billygrams" and the editor-in-chief of "Client/Server News" for more than a decade. One of the most respected technology reporters in the business, Maureen can be reached by email at maureen(at)sys-con.com or paperboy(at)g2news.com, and by phone at 516 759-7025. Twitter: @MaureenOGara

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