SCO hits Novell with copyright claim

Out-Law News | 09 Jan 2006 | 9:07 pm | 1 min. read

The SCO Group is seeking to add a copyright infringement claim to its long-running court battle with Novell. The amended complaint, filed in court in late December, also seeks to add an unfair competition claim and two further charges of breach of contract.

According to the complaint – which has yet to be approved by the court – SCO alleges that Novell has infringed “and continues to infringe SCO's copyrights by copying, reproducing, modifying, sublicensing and/or distributing Linux products containing unauthorised contributions of SCO's copyrighted intellectual property.”

Some have queried the move, asking why SCO would bring a copyright charge into the case now – two years after originally suing the Linux supplier.

Background

The complicated dispute dates back to February 1985 when IBM entered into a licence agreement with the then owner of the UNIX system, AT&T, in order to produce its own AIX operating system. The agreements required that IBM hold the UNIX software code in confidence, and prohibited unauthorised distribution or transfer.

In 1992, AT&T sold UNIX to Novell. Then, in 1995, the Santa Cruz Operation purchased rights in UNIX from Novell, including source code, source documentation, software development contracts, licenses and other intellectual property.

The initial contract specifically excluded copyright from the sale, while an amendment, dated October 1996, again specifically excluded copyrights, with the exception of “the copyrights and trade marks owned by Novell as of the date of the [contract] required for Santa Cruz Operations to exercise its rights with respect to the acquisition of UNIX and Unixware technologies."

The Santa Cruz Operation sold on these rights to Caldera International, which subsequently changed its name to The SCO Group.

In a series of lawsuits filed since March 2003, SCO has claimed intellectual property rights to parts of UNIX and Linux.

At first, it focused on suing IBM, saying it let parts of UNIX ‘slip’ into the Linux operating system in breach of SCO’s rights. Then SCO looked to end users, suing both AutoZone and DaimlerChrysler for damages and an injunction against their use of what SCO said was its source code.

It then became embroiled in a separate action against Novell, concerning the exact scope of the rights acquired by SCO in 1995.

Initially, SCO claimed to own patents in UNIX; now it talks only of copyrights and "other" intellectual property rights. But Novell believes that Novell still owns important copyrights in the UNIX system, and has publicised the fact.

In January 2004, SCO filed a slander suit against Novell – a suit that Novell has twice failed to have dismissed – seeking to silence Novell’s copyright claims. Novell counterclaimed last year, accusing SCO of slander in claiming that SCO rather than Novell owns the UNIX copyrights.

Next stage

The Novell case is due to come to trial before Utah District Court Judge Dale Kimball on 25th June 2007, according to reports. The IBM suit is expected to come to court earlier, on 27th February 2007.