SCO readies new Linux licensing program

The SCO Group Inc. is preparing a new Linux licensing program that it claims will allow users of the open-source operating system to run Linux without fear of litigation.

The program will be announced “within the next month or so,” according to SCO spokesperson Blake Stowell, but on Monday the company will announce what he calls a “precursor” to this program in a press conference with SCO Chief Executive Officer Darl McBride and SCO’s high-profile attorney David Boies, of the firm Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP.

In March, SCO launched a US$1 billion lawsuit against IBM Corp., charging Big Blue with breach of contract and misappropriation of trade secrets. At the heart of SCO’s complaint are allegations that IBM attempted to destroy the economic value of Unix in order to benefit its Linux services business, and that it inappropriately contributed source code to the Linux kernel.

Since then, SCO has warned Linux users that they could be held liable for inappropriately using SCO’s intellectual property and boosted its claim for damages against IBM to more than US$3 billion. In June the Lindon, Utah, company announced that it had terminated IBM’s Unix license, originally obtained in 1985 from AT&T Corp., but subsequently transferred to SCO.

IBM has denied any wrongdoing in the matter.

Stowell declined to provide specific details of SCO’s new licensing program, saying only, “we’re working on some details to try and create some kind of a licensing program for Linux users to be able to run Linux legally.”

A statement announcing Monday’s press conference said that SCO executives will provide details on “opportunities for Linux customers.” That does not bode well for Linux users, according to one analyst. “Opportunities for Linux customers jumped out at me,” said Illuminata Inc. analyst Gordon Haff. “Opportunities are rarely good news.”

Meanwhile, a few hours before the conference call on Monday morning, SCO released a statement saying that it had received U.S. Copyright Office registration certification for its claim to a copyright on UNIX System V source code, which includes code that SCO says has been illegally copied into Linux software. The certification makes SCO’s claim to a copyright in the Unix code a matter of public record, and is a prerequisite for legal action, according to SCO.

In the statement, SCO also said it plans to offer UnixWare licenses that will allow users to run systems incorporating Linux based on kernel version 2.4.x and later. SCO will make company officials available to discuss the licences on the conference call, it said.

While the majority of Linux customers probably would not participate in a SCO licensing program, Haff predicted some companies might be willing to pay SCO for the security of knowing they would not be sued. SCO is “hoping that even if 99 per cent of Linux customers laugh in their face, that there will be sufficient large companies who, for what is presumably going to be a relative drop in the bucket of their IT budgets, can potentially eliminate a cloud over their heads,” he said.

Lawyers following the lawsuit say that Monday’s press conference will be interesting simply because it marks David Boies’s first public appearance in connection with the case since being hired by SCO in January.

Boies is widely known for his work in a string of high-profile cases including Al Gore’s unsuccessful challenge of the 2000 federal election results in Florida, and the U.S. Department of Justice’s antitrust suit against Microsoft Corp. His appearance on Monday’s teleconference is likely to inject a level of showmanship into the case, said Lawrence Rosen, a partner with Rosenlaw & Einschlag, and a general counsel for the Open Source Initiative, an open-source advocacy group.

“In every generation, there are attorneys who rise to a certain level of performance,” said Rosen. “David Boies is that kind of an attorney,” he said. “If I hired David Boies to do something, I would expect a courtroom performance and possibly a standing-in-front-of-a-microphone performance in which he earns his money,” he said.

Another attorney who has been following the case agreed that Boies’s comments would be likely to raise the profile of the already high-profile case. “I suspect that this is an attempt to stir things up,” said Jeffrey Neuburger, a partner with Brown Raysman Millstein Felder & Steiner LLP. “David Boies is clearly somebody who attracts attention. He’ll probably say some interesting or controversial things.”

– With files from Marc Ferranti, IDG News Service

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