Novell Won't Pursue Unix Copyrights

Now that it has scored a major win for Linux in its legal battle with The SCO Group Inc., Novell Inc. has no interest in becoming like the company it's just defeated and won't mount any copyright-infringement claims over Unix, a spokesman said Tuesday.

"We're not interested in suing people over Unix," Novell spokesman Bruce Lowry said. "We're not even in the Unix business anymore."

A judge Friday upheld Novell's claims to Unix copyrights that SCO said it owned. Those copyrights were the basis for SCO's highly controversial and ongoing Linux patent-infringement suit against IBM Corp.

Lowry said the ruling means "the cloud has lifted over Linux." Users and distributors of the open-source OS finally can breathe a sigh of relief that they are not in violation of Unix copyrights.

"We don't believe there is Unix in Linux," Lowry said. "We've been fighting that all along. It wouldn't be consistent for Novell to say, 'Oh gosh, now that this has been confirmed, we're going to suddenly take a different position' and sue companies for copyright infringement."

The Friday ruling doesn't mean the company's legal entanglement with SCO is over. There are still several claims before the court that will go to trial next month, and one of them involves payments SCO received from Microsoft Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc. for Unix licenses. If the judge rules that those companies paid SCO for Unix copyrights owned by Novell, SCO will have to pay Novell whatever it earned from those licenses, Lowry said.

There is nothing holding Novell back from suing existing Unix vendors. Even Novell's Linux-Windows interoperability deal with Microsoft does not preclude the two companies from suing each other. Lowry declined to speculate on the outcome of the outstanding claims of the case.

One thing seems fairly certain: Friday's ruling sinks SCO's case against IBM once and for all, a point Linux proponents were still celebrating Tuesday. SCO can't appeal the ruling until the trial is over, and the company has not decided if it would do so. In a statement on its Web site, SCO said it is exploring how it will proceed once the legal process of the case is concluded.

Lowry declined to speculate on how the ruling will affect that case and others SCO is still embroiled in with IBM, AutoZone and Red Hat Inc. Both the AutoZone and Red Hat cases had been put on hold until the IBM case was resolved. Attorneys in the SCO-IBM case have until Aug. 31 to present what claims are still pending now that the Unix copyright claim in the Novell-SCO suit has been resolved. Another case, which SCO brought against DaimlerChrysler AG for Unix copyright infringement, was dismissed in 2004.

"It's over," Pamela Jones, founder and editor of Groklaw, said of SCO's battle against Linux. "SCO couldn't find any infringement even when it had access to the entire copyrighted code base. No one else will find anything either." Groklaw is a Web site that follows open-source software legal issues

Linux proponents are turning their attention to Microsoft Corp. as the next front line in the battle to protect Linux, she said.

"Microsoft is the next SCO. They positioned themselves that way with their patent saber-rattling," Jones said, referring to Microsoft's claims earlier this year that Linux violates more than 235 patents it holds.

Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation, agreed that Microsoft will continue to be a thorn in the side of Linux.

"I don't expect these questions around legal issues to go away, but I do expect people to see it for what it is, which is FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) fostered by competitors of the platform who have a lot to lose from Linux's success," he said. "Microsoft makes [billions of dollars] a year on Windows ... Any minute, second or day they can slow a competitor is good for them."

Zemlin also reiterated what some in the industry have already suggested, that Microsoft's US$16.6 billion licensing deal with SCO over Unix, an OS that Microsoft has never offered commercially, was to fund SCO's lawsuit against IBM to spread FUD over Linux. Microsoft has denied these claims.

Zemlin said even though SCO is losing its battle in the end, the legal wrangling that has taken place over the past several years has unfortunately been a victory for Microsoft. "People don't want to acknowledge it, but they got what they were looking for," Zemlin said.

He also praised Novell for fighting SCO to retain its rights over Unix in order to protect Linux. "Novell should be given credit where credit is due," he said. "They've spent tons of energy and money defending this case to the benefit of everyone."

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