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SCO may expand Linux case soon

Another major hardware maker is likely to be added to SCO's legal battle against IBM and others over what it claims is illegally appropriated source code in Linux.

The SCO Group soon may open another front in its legal battle against Linux by filing suit against a major hardware manufacturer in North America, a company executive said.

In an interview with CNET, Chris Sontag, senior vice president at SCO, said the Lindon, Utah-based company likely will file a new suit or amend its controversial lawsuit against IBM to target other companies SCO believes are illegally appropriating its Unix source code.

SCO may also amend its complaint to bring additional causes of action against IBM, he added, and bring subsequent actions against Linux software developers such as Red Hat and SuSE.

"The fact that there are other companies infringing our contract... (means) there could be other complaints," Sontag said.

In particular, Sontag said that a "major" hardware vendor inserted code protected by SCO's Unix intellectual-property rights into a Linux product.

The identity of that company remains a mystery for the moment, as the major Unix manufacturers appear to be ruled out. Sontag said it is not an overseas manufacturer and that Sun Microsystems had a very strong licensing agreement with SCO that allows the server giant to make derivative Unix products. Sun has paid nearly $100 million to license Unix over the years, he added.

"They have rights that no other Unix vendor has," he said.

A Hewlett-Packard spokeswoman, meanwhile, denied it was HP, to the best of the company's knowledge. SCO's major Unix licensees in the computing hardware business are IBM, Fujitsu, NEC, HP and Sun. SCO also recently signed a licensing agreement with an unnamed major hardware manufacturer.

Other Unix hardware vendors include SGI, but these companies are second-tier players. Of course, there are several hardware and chip companies that do not specialize in Unix but that participate in Linux development.

SCO shocked the technology industry in March by suing IBM, claiming major portions of the Linux software the Armonk, N.Y., company distributes are based on Unix source code SCO controls. SCO is likely to up the ante against IBM soon by seeking to revoke the company's Unix license.

The dispute has grown to rattle the growing movement to boost corporate use of Linux, embroil SCO in spat with former business buddy Novell and possibly open a new front in Microsoft's war against Linux.

Sontag said SCO has found numerous other violations since filing the IBM suit. "We keep finding more stuff every day," he said. "There's (allegedly infringing) code in all the Linux distributions."

"If it were a few lines of code, I'd give it to you," he said. SCO wasn't aware of any potential infringement until CEO Darl McBride began to ask engineers to investigate how Linux could have grown so quickly. Statements by IBM to shift customers away from its Unix product AIX to Linux also prompted the company to consider if Big Blue was violating any licensing agreements.

Linux software companies could also become SCO targets. "Do we have potential issues with Red Hat, SuSE and other commercial Linux distributors--yes, we might," Sontag said, adding that chances for negotiating with such companies appear to be slim.

"Red Hat has been saying all along, 'We don't believe in licensing IP (intellectual property),'" he said.

A Red Hat representative said that the company has not been contacted by SCO regarding possible legal issues and that Red Hat's approach to intellectual property is to only distribute software under the open-source general public license.

Sontag said SCO planned to have suggested remediation measures ready by next month for companies it believes to be infringing on its Unix rights, including the 1,500 corporations that received warning letters from SCO last month.

"Hopefully by July, we'll have some solutions we can offer," he said.

Those remedial measures, however, seem to point toward some sort of royalty payment, as SCO does not believe that its intellectual property can be easily extracted from Linux. Not only are there lines of SCO's code in Linux, but also derivative products based on SCO intellectual property have been created, Sontag said. Getting all of the protected bits out, assuming SCO's claims are valid, would be a huge chore.

"Our biggest issues are with the derivative code," he said. "It would be almost impossible to separate it out."