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Shut the Open Source Case: Jury Finds Novell Owns Unix Rights

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on March 31, 2010 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Since 2004, companies SCO Group and Novell, Inc., have been litigating the question of who owns the copyrights to the Unix operating system. On March 30, a federal jury verdict in Salt Lake City found that Novell is the legal owner of the Unix copyrights.

According to the report in eWeek, the jury decided that when Novell had SCO take over maintenance of customers using Unix in their IT systems, they may have granted service rights, but they did not grant the ownership rights in the intellectual property along with it. In 2004, SCO filed a "slander of title" action against Novell for damaging its business and reputation when the company claimed it had sold service rights but not operating rights to the Unix operating system. 

eWeek reports that Novell executives testifying in court admitted that they had intended to sell ownership rights along with the service rights to SCO. However, the jury found that the 1996 amendment to the contract transferring these rights was never voted on by Novell's board of directors and never became a binding agreement.

Novell issued a statement regarding the company's satisfaction with the jury verdict. "Novell is very pleased with the jury decision confirming Novell's ownership of the Unix copyrights, which SCO had asserted to own in its attack on Linux. Novell remains committed to promoting Linux, including by defending Linux on the intellectual property front."

For those that do not know a Linux from a lynx, there is one more chapter in this story, alluded to in the Novell statement. Linux is an open source operating system developed by Linus Torvalds and based, in part on the original Unix code. eWeek explains that even though Linux is open source system and cannot be owned by any single commercial entity, SCO had years ago, intended to attempt to gain licensing control over the Linux system. At this time they are still pursuing claims against IBM for using Unix code to make the Linux operating system a viable competitor, and thus causing a decline in SCO's revenues. SCO will likely fight on. "The copyright claims are gone, but we have other claims based on contracts," said Former U.S. District Judge Edward Cahn, the trustee for SCO's bankruptcy.

SCO Group, (Santa Cruz Organization) has been in bankruptcy proceedings since 2007.

For a fascinating, inside the geek-way view of the verdict, visit the March 30 post on Groklaw.

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