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Tech Industry

Who really owns Unix?

Allen Brown, CEO of The Open Group, explains that his organization owns the Unix trademark and that the SCO Group holds the rights only to the OS source code.

    Whoever said the first casualty of war is truth would be surprised to find that apothegm quoted in a dispute between systems vendors. But it is an apt description of current events.

    The SCO Group has started legal proceedings against IBM, an action that has turned into a war of words--words that very often serve to mislead or confuse. Perhaps it was not intentional, but fear, uncertainty and doubt nevertheless have been the inevitable result.

    This concerns The Open Group. Many organizations that procure Unix systems do so in the knowledge that an operating system certified by our organization to use the Unix trademark conforms--and will always conform--to the Single Unix Specification. What's more, they know that if the OS is found not to conform to the specification, it will be rectified by the vendor at no expense to the customer.

    Certification of conformity to standards is critical to the efficient operation of the market. Governments are particularly concerned with such certification. It is a little late to find out on the battlefield that a piece of equipment does not meet a supplier's claims of conformity to standards. This is one example of the importance of a neutral third-party carrying out the certification process.

    The Open Group is the owner of the Unix trademark and the Single Unix Specification, which it holds on behalf of the industry. This truth has not been entirely visible in the media, even though it is acknowledged on SCO products and on the company's Web site.

    In 1994, Novell, which had earlier acquired the Unix systems business from AT&T, decided to shed everything in its product portfolio not directly related to networking. Rather than sell it as a single entity, however, Novell transferred the rights to the Unix trademark and the specification that subsequently became the Single Unix Specification to The Open Group, then known as the X/Open Co. Simultaneously, Novell sold the Unix System V source code and the product implementation (called Unixware) to SCO.

    As the owner of the Unix trademark, The Open Group has separated the Unix trademark from any actual code stream itself, thus allowing multiple implementations. Since the introduction of the Single Unix Specification, there has been a single, open, consensus specification that defines the requirements for a conformant Unix system. There is also a mark, or brand, used to identify products certified as conforming to the Single Unix Specification.

    The Open Group has separated the Unix trademark from any actual code stream itself, thus allowing multiple implementations.
    Along with all other vendors of Unix systems (regardless of whether they are members of The Open Group), SCO distributes a Unix system that has been certified through The Open Group's Unix certification program. As a vendor-neutral organization, The Open Group has no opinion on who is right and who is wrong in the SCO-IBM dispute. We will leave that for the courts and the media.

    However, we do care about customers and users of Unix systems who depend on the Unix trademark as an indicator of trust.

    The Open Group actively pursues anyone who puts this trademark in harm's way. Initially we seek to use education and persuasion to obtain the correct usage and attribution of the Unix trademark. Only in very rarest of cases do we take legal action, usually after all other courses of action have failed.

    At this time we do have a legal case of our own against Apple Computer. Apple has been using the Unix trademark on and in connection with its OS X product. This constitutes an infringement of our trademark since OS X is not certified under our Unix system certification program, and Apple has refused to use that program to obtain certification. Apple is obviously a valued member of The Open Group, and we have tried to reach an arbitrated settlement. However, all of our offers have been declined, so we have had no choice but to fulfill our duty to our customers and the industry as a whole to protect the Unix trademark.

    The Open Group actively pursues anyone who puts this trademark in harm's way.
    The simple fact is that throughout all of this, both SCO and IBM do have certified products. Each is licensed to use the Unix trademark in association with certified products with the correct attribution.

    So why should you, as the buyer or the vendor, care? As a buyer, you must care. Your business depends upon your ability to buy products that are fairly and accurately described and that they do what the vendor says. You must vote with your checkbook to reward vendors that live up to their guarantees and product brochures.

    As a vendor, you will only be rewarded at the cash register if your products are indeed what you say they are and what you say they can do: no fudging, no attempts to get the benefit of words like "open," "standard," "conformant" and "certified" unless you really do stand behind your products. Black and white, no shades of gray, no half-truths. We all depend on it.