Microsoft backs SCO vs. Linux

Ars Technica

May 20, 2003

We haven't been really covering the ongoing SCO vs. IBM/Linux drama, so here's a quick recap for those who haven't read about it elsewhere. From a March 6 story [ ]:

SCO Group, inheritor of the intellectual property for the Unix operating system, has sued IBM for more than $1 billion, alleging Big Blue misappropriated SCO's Unix technology and built it into Linux.

The suit, filed Thursday afternoon in the 3rd District Court of Salt Lake County in Utah, alleges misappropriation of trade secrets, unfair competition, breach of contract and tortious interference with SCO's business, the Lindon, Utah-based company said. SCO also sent a letter Thursday demanding that if IBM doesn't meet various demands, SCO will revoke IBM's license to ship its version of Unix, called AIX, in 100 days.

"We are alleging they have contaminated their Linux work with inappropriate knowledge from Unix," said Chris Sontag, senior vice president of operating systems at SCO and head of the company's SCOsource effort to make more money from its intellectual property. Analysts saw the move as a desperate one for SCO, a company that hasn't been profitable in its current incarnation.

You can read the entire history of this suit, here [ / ].

The latest twist in the story was yesterday's revelation that Microsoft has opted to license the rights to the contested Unix IP. You can check out this story [ ] and read various statements from various analysts about why MS would do such a thing, but the bottom line is really quite simple: in an IP lawsuit like this, it's a loss for the defendant (IBM, in this case) when a third party--especially someone big like MS--licenses the plaintiff's contested IP, because that license can be introduced in court as evidence that your claim to the IP is, in fact, legitimate. So getting someone to acknowledge the legitimacy of your claim to a piece of IP by licensing it is one of the best pieces of legal ammunition you can have against those who contest your claim. (I know this primarily from covering the legal wrangling over Rambus, but it has also come up in other disputes like Amazon's 1-click shopping patent.)

So MS has now strengthened SCO's legal claim against IBM, and in the process has stricken a blow against Linux. As many folks have pointed out regarding this move, if MS can sow doubt as to whether Linux has encumbered technology lurking within its kernel, corporate managers will be loath to adopt something with such an uncertain legal status. The term "spreading FUD" is vastly overused nowadays, but this really is a textbook example of a FUD tactic. In fact, I almost want to congratulate MS on this one.

12:29 AM

Copyright 2003