Novell Officially Owns Right to Unix OS

After six years of battle, a federal jury on Tuesday settled the longstanding SCO Group v. Novell (Nasdaq: NOVL) case by ruling that Novell owns the rights to the Unix operating system.

In 2003, the SCO Group began campaigning to get Linux users to pay it license fees, arguing that unspecified SCO intellectual property had been improperly included in Linux. SCO filed suit against Novell in 2004, claiming slander of title.

Now, following the District Court of Utah's decision, the case has finally been put to rest, causing widespread jubilation at Novell and throughout the Linux community.

'Thank you, Novell'

"Novell is very pleased with the jury's decision confirming Novell's ownership of the Unix copyrights, which SCO had asserted to own in its attack on Linux," wrote Novell spokesperson Ian Bruce in a company blog on Tuesday.

"Novell remains committed to promoting Linux, including by defending Linux on the intellectual property front," Bruce added. "This decision is good news for Novell, for Linux, and for the open source community."

Indeed, "Thank you, Novell, for never giving up, and never giving in," read a comment from the Groklaw blog, which has followed the case's twists and turns over the years. "Those of us who love to use Linux will forever be thankful to you."

SCO Group did not respond by press time to LinuxInsider's request for comment.

A Question of Transfer

At question in the lawsuit was a 1995 agreement in which Novell sold Unix to the Santa Cruz Operation, which sold it a few years later to what would soon become the SCO Group. An ambiguously worded portion of that contract left it unclear whether Novell retained the Unix copyrights in the sale or whether it transferred those rights along with the sale.

Linux creator Linus Torvalds asserted that SCO was lying in its concurrent claims against IBM (NYSE: IBM), in a comment he made to Forbes in 2006.

Now, Novell's victory raises questions both about SCO's lawsuit against IBM -- SCO claims the computing giant improperly used its Unix code to improve Linux -- and about the survival of SCO itself. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2007.

Former U.S. District Judge Edward Cahn, the trustee who is running SCO following its bankruptcy filing, noted that its claims against IBM still stand, the Salt Lake City Tribune reported.

'A Significant Victory'

"After a six-year litigation, a jury verdict in Novell's favor, a partial reversal by the 10th Circuit Appeals Court, and a second jury verdict, Novell is declared the victor in owning the copyrights at issue," Washington, D.C., technology attorney Raymond Van Dyke told LinuxInsider. "Also, SCO was found to have contractually waived their rights."

The open source community "views this judgment as vindication and hopefully a sign that further victories are in store," Van Dyke added.

Indeed, "this is a significant victory for Novell, which deserves credit for all of the time, money and energy it has spent defending Linux and asserting its ownership of Unix copyrights," 451 Group analyst Jay Lyman told LinuxInsider.

"When SCO was asserting it owned those rights and thus had some ownership of Linux more than six years ago, there was concern it would hurt the enterprise credibility, growth and potential of the Linux operating system, its vendors and open source in general," Lyman noted. "In the time since the suit began, the claims and counterclaims have actually served to bolster the enterprise credibility of Linux."

'Pervasive, Useful and Vibrant'

The operating system is now "ingrained in the enterprise server market, and its intellectual property is less and less frequently an issue for enterprise users," Lyman asserted.

In fact, "because of the SCO cases -- and because it is open source -- many would argue that Linux has been through the most rigorous intellectual property review of any operating system on the planet," he pointed out.

In short, Lyman concluded, "this jury decision is a reinforcement of how pervasive, useful and vibrant Linux is today."

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