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SCO casts wider net for infringers

The company hires high-profile attorney David Boies to see whether Windows, Mac OS X, Linux and versions of BSD infringe on Unix intellectual property the company owns.

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Stephen Shankland
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NEW YORK--SCO Group has hired high-profile attorney David Boies to see whether Windows, Mac OS X, Linux and versions of BSD infringe on Unix intellectual property the company owns, Chief Executive Darl McBride said Wednesday.

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SCO was formerly named Caldera International but changed its name last year to reflect the Unix products it acquired from Santa Cruz Operation. Unix was invented more than 30 years ago by AT&T's Unix Systems Laboratories, and its ideas have spread widely since then. SCO's Unix products generate much more revenue than the version of Linux the company also sells.

Last week, Utah-based SCO said it had "not engaged Mr. Boies to take legal action against our fellow Linux vendors." But on Wednesday, McBride wouldn't rule out that the investigation could have implications for Linux companies, Apple Computer, Microsoft, BSD versions of Unix, and other companies using the various operating systems.

"We do have concerns about our intellectual property in general," McBride said in an interview. "To us, it's not an issue of: Is Linux violating (SCO intellectual property)? It's an issue of: Is anybody violating it?"

One particular area of concern is with companies that signed agreements to see proprietary SCO source code and whose programmers now are working on different projects that could use that proprietary code, McBride said. He declined to comment on who could be contributing that code.

The investigation will be a follow-up to a more limited program that SCO announced Wednesday to license some Unix software components. As previously reported, SCO plans to license supporting Unix software called "libraries" to others so they can run SCO software on Linux systems, McBride said.

The new move, however, could alienate companies, including SCO customers, according to Giga Information Group analyst Stacey Quandt.

"There are a number of gating factors against SCO filing lawsuits against companies and individuals," Quandt said. "Even if they pursue some level of legal action, they will be placing themselves in contention with their potential customers since SCO also has a Linux strategy. Organizations who have a vested interest in working with Linux companies will resist a shotgun approach to switching to another Linux distribution provider like SCO."

Boies is noted in the computing industry for working on the U.S. Justice Department's antitrust case against Microsoft and for defending music-sharing site Napster. He also represented Al Gore in the Florida vote-counting controversy during the 2000 presidential elections.

Boies' law firm, Boies, Schiller & Flexner, should have plenty of digging to do to trace the complex and convoluted history of Unix intellectual property.

A 1995 lawsuit set up barriers between the version of Unix that stemmed from AT&T and a variant that it spawned at the University of California's Berkeley campus. That Berkeley variant has spread into several operating systems, including BSD/OS, FreeBSD, NetBSD and OpenBSD. And parts of that BSD code have popped up elsewhere, including in the networking software of older versions of Windows and, more recently, as a foundation for Apple's Mac OS X.

"We've been looking at this for months. Every time we turn over a stone, there's something there," McBride said. "If you pull down (Mac) OS X you'll see a lot of copyright postings that point back to Unix Systems Laboratories, which is what we hold."

The more limited Unix library licensing program announced Wednesday at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo will let companies pay $149 per server processor to use the Unix libraries, McBride said. It's a program that customers have been asking for.

"Instead of going after people, we're giving people a chance to license," McBride said. Customers with numerous servers will receive discounts, he added.