SCO widens intellectual property net with SGI dispute

A spokesman for The SCO Group confirmed Thursday that the company will revoke the Unix licence of Silicon Graphics Inc. effective Oct. 14, adding the high-end hardware manufacturer to the list

of companies SCO alleges has violated its intellectual property rights.

SCO director of corporate communications Blake Stowell said the company had advised SGI in an Aug. 13 letter of a number of areas in which SGI had violated SCO’s Unix copyright. In an open letter to the open source community on Sept. 9, SCO CEO Darl McBride said an SGI Linux developer “”stripped copyright attributions from copyrighted (Unix) System V code that was licensed to SGI under strict conditions of use, and then contributed that source code into Linux as though it were clean code owned and controlled by SGI.””

Stowell said end-user licences of Irix — SGI’s version of Unix — bought before Oct. 14 will be valid, but customers won’t be able to order new licences or get support. The move would essentially “”freeze the customer with the snapshot of the network they have now,”” he said.

SCO levelled similar accusations at IBM Corp. earlier this year. IBM has refused to stop selling its AIX version of Unix. SGI is taking the same road with its Irix operating system.

“”We absolutely, positively will continue to ship Irix-based systems after Oct. 14,”” said SGI vice-president of corporate marketing Greg Estes. “”SGI’s going to continue to ship those products, full stop.””

In its 10-K filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, SGI acknowledged that the company “”received a letter from SCO Group alleging that, as a result of our activities related to the Linux operating system, we are in breach of the fully paid licence under which we distribute our IRIX operating system . . . We believe that the SCO Group’s allegations are without merit and that our fully paid licence is nonterminable.””

Stowell said SCO’s review of the contract didn’t suggest that the licence – originally from AT&T – couldn’t be terminated, and in fact specified it could be revoked on two months’ notice.

Estes countered that SGI has no ongoing engineering relationship with SCO — it has purchased outright the licence to develop on the Unix platform.

Estes conceded that some code was contributed to Linux that might have come from Unix.

“”We did find a trivial amount of low-level, utility-type code that could potentially have come from Unix,”” Estes said. He said the code consisted of redundant routines that were possibly already in the public domain. To prevent even the possibility of an IP violation, SGI removed the suspect code from its Linux distribution, issued replacement code and provided a patch.

Stowell said the bigger issue is whether the XFS extended file system contributed to Linux by SGI is based on proprietary code. SCO says it is. SGI maintains it’s clean code.

Robinson’s letter claims that one million lines of Unix code owned by SCO have found their way into Linux. SCO says commercial Linux users should pay a licence fee to the company, a claim that’s been denied and dismissed by the user community.

“”It’s pretty universally laughed at,”” said Shad Young, co-founder of the Canadian Linux Interests Coalition created to fight the SCO attack. XFS is SGI’s “”significant contribution”” to Linux, and it’s widely believed to be SGI property. And Young says Robinson’s claim that there are a million line of System V code in the Linux kernel is laughable — there are only 1.2 million lines in total, excluding device drivers, which SCO makes no claim against.

“”SCO is playing the media game,”” propping up its once sagging share prices, Young said. And to an extent, SCO is succeeding on that front — it’s gone from a virtual penny stock in March to a $15-range close on Thursday, reaching the low twenties recently.

“”They have really just spent the last six months making noise,”” not proving its case, Young said. “”Nobody’s going to panic and run to SCO . . . We in the Linux community are more amused by the continuous activities (than anything else).””


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Dave Webb
Dave Webb
Dave Webb is a technology journalist with more than 15 years' experience. He has edited numerous technology publications including Network World Canada, ComputerWorld Canada, Computing Canada and eBusiness Journal. He now runs content development shop Dweeb Media.

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