The Linux world (which here we mean to include the people and organizations involved with the Linux kernel, GNU/Linux, Linux distributions, Linux applications, and others) is a most interesting collection and mish-mosh of free software, open source software, proprietary software, and commercial software philosophies and interests existing together in a common environment and often working together. From time to time, the differences in this collection of philosophies and interests that comprise the Linux world result in conflicts and turmoil.
Nevertheless, up to now the Linux world has continued to grow, progress, and develop nicely despite conflict and turmoil flare-ups that arise every now and then on the Linux-world landscape. That is a great tribute to all the people and organizations that co-exist, contribute, and work in the Linux-world space. Please hold that thought.
As is the case with many computer and technology companies today, SCO-Caldera has money problems.
We have not been profitable. If our revenue continues to decline or we are unable to efficiently further reduce operating expenses, we may not achieve profitability or generate positive cash flow. (Caldera 10-K filing at page 12)
One approach to relieving money woes is to squeeze more revenue out of existing assets. That's an important approach because it does not require the often-tremendous expenses of developing new products or updating existing products -- pretty much pure profit.
Apparently someone at SCO-Caldera realized that SCO-Caldera has a broad collection of intellectual properties from which it could gain substantial revenues. SCO-Caldera already had been collecting some revenue from IP licensing before it created its SCOsource project.
However, a more vigorous licensing and enforcement management of its IP portfolio could significantly increase much needed revenues. Moreover, tighter SCO IP management could help to make SCO-Caldera products more competitive with respect to gaining new customers and preventing loss of existing customers.
Our success depends in part on our ability to protect our trademarks, trade secrets, and certain proprietary technology. To accomplish this, we rely primarily on a combination of trademark and copyright laws and trade secrets . . . We also enjoy a broad and deep set of intellectual property rights relating to the UNIX operating system. We have recently initiated efforts to garner value from these intellectual property assets and believe it will provide us with additional licensing and partnering revenue opportunities. (Caldera 10-K filing at page 9)
Blake Stowell: SCO created SCOsource because . . . We now expect to gain a higher level of revenue from our intellectual property than we ever could have before. (Emphasis added.)
SCO-Caldera noted in the Risks section its SEC 1O-K filing its concerns about the free-to-download, free-to-distribute, and free-to-modify nature of the Linux kernel and the GNU/Linux operating system.
. . . due to the open source nature of Linux, anyone can freely download Linux and many Linux applications and modify and re-distribute them with few restrictions. For example, solution providers upon whom we depend for the distribution of our products could instead create their own Linux solutions to provide to their customers. Also, established companies and other institutions could produce competing versions of Linux software. (Caldera 10-K filing at page 12)
If SCO-Caldera can establish a bone-fide intellectual property right in the Linux kernel and/or the GNU/Linux operating system it could block competition and/or obtain revenue from competitor distribution and sale of the Linux kernel, the GNU/Linux operating system, and Linux distributions.
Blake Stowell: We now expect to gain a higher level of revenue from our intellectual property than we ever could have before . . . SCO's enforcement of its intellectual property WILL go beyond these UNIX libraries . . . Software piracy can't be condoned and SCO is taking the necessary steps to make sure that their intellectual property isn't being pirated . . . if there is the potential that SCO's intellectual property is being used without permission, then we need to investigate that. We're not saying yet that it is, but we have to research areas where that might be happening.
By stating that Linux is a derivative of . . . UNIX source code SCO-Caldera is in effect saying it believes it has an enforceable and justicable intellectual property interest in the Linux source code.
Blake Stowell: SCO owns the core UNIX code that was originally developed by AT&T. Everyone knows (and Linus has publicly stated) that Linux is a derivative of that UNIX source code. Whether or not parts of SCO's UNIX intellectual property resides in any parts of Linux is still being investigated. To comment further on that would be pre-mature until we come to a conclusion on any findings.
However, prominent and well-respected members of the Linux world refute SCO-Caldera's claim that Linux is a derivative of . . . UNIX source code. Moreover, they refute the suggestion that Linux might contain SCO-owned source code.
Richard Gooch: . . . The fact is that "everybody" (i.e. anyone in the Linux community and many outside) knows that the Linux kernel is a 100% independent implementation of an Unix-like OS. I have never heard Linus (or anyone else in the community) state otherwise.
Richard Stallman: We made deliberate efforts to prevent copying of any Unix source code into the GNU system . . . at least the GNU part of GNU/Linux should be safe.
Moreover, SCO-Caldera does not own the UNIX specification. (Please keep in mind that specification and actual source code are two different things
Allen Brown: . . . Novell transferred the rights to the UNIX trademark and the specification (that subsequently became the Single UNIX Specification) to The Open Group (at the time X/Open Company).
There is a caveat here however. Hundreds if not thousands of people have contributed code to the Linux kernel and the GNU/Linux operating system. There always is the chance that one or more of those people that contributed code to the Linux kernel or the GNU/Linux operating system might have copied some UNIX code.
Nevertheless, the burden is on SCO-Caldera to prove that the Linux kernel and/or the GNU/Linux operating system contain SCO-owned code. So far, SCO-Caldera has not met that burden.
Allen Brown raised an interesting issue, which could result in SCO-Caldera's Linux kernel and GNU/Linux IP fracas backfiring on SCO-Caldera.
Allen Brown: . . . SCO (though its merger with Caldera) has both the UNIX source code and a Linux Distribution at its disposal, they could have chosen to incorporate any element of the UNIX source code into their Linux kernel distribution. If SCO did this, it would fall under the terms of the GPL and, as I understand it, therefore be made available to all! (Emphasis added.)
SCO-Caldera has released several Linux distributions since Caldera acquired SCO. If Allen Brown's understanding is correct, and we have no reason to believe that it is not, then in effect SCO-Caldera has nicely donated any SCO-owned source code included in its Linux distributions to the GNU/Linux system. Isn't that special?
Would it not be interesting if SCO-Caldera not only has put some of its Unix source code in the public domain because it publishes both UNIX and Linux products, but also has put its UNIX libraries that allow UnixWare and OpenServer applications to run on x86 Linux platforms in the public domain also?
That could make some interesting legal questions and/or lawsuits. Sure looks like the lawyers could be the only people making money from this SCO IP mess.
In the world of commercial, proprietary software IP licensing and enforcement is an acceptable practice and merely business as usual. However, software IP licensing and enforcement in the Linux, GNU/Linux, free software, and open source software community is an entirely different matter. It can lead to any thing from a minor annoyance and ill-will to being taken as a declaration of war on the Linux, GNU/Linux, free software, and open source software community.
The intellectual property law regarding copyright, patent, and trademark protections clearly gives people and organizations the rights to license and to enforce their intellectual property rights. Moral right often is an entirely different matter.
As SCO's Blake Stowell points out: SCO is a Linux company and we're interested in seeing Linux succeed and in growing the Linux community. SCO believes that the open source and proprietary software models both have their strengths. SCO has regularly contributed to the Open Source community . . . SCO doesn't believe that Linux has to lose in order for SCO to win and vice versa. We think both can succeed and SCO intends to help Linux where possible. (Emphases added.)
The Caldera portion of what now is SCO-Caldera has made significant contribution to Desktop Linux. Please keep in mind its first product was Caldera Network Desktop.
Unfortunately, if SCO-Caldera should decide to license and/or enforce and/or charge for any IP in the Linux kernel and/or GNU/Linux to which it might be able to lay claim, it likely would hurt and anger the Linux community -- as well as stifle the growth and success of the Linux kernel and the GNU/Linux operating system.
On the other hand, any such stifling the growth and success of the Linux kernel and the GNU/Linux operating system could be short-lived:
Richard Stallman: If any AT&T-copyrighted code was copied into GNU, this occurred despite our continued efforts to prevent such copying. Our intention was to write code from scratch, and we have surely done so 99% of the time or more. If SCO can find code that was copied and is not fair use, they merely have to show it to us. We will take out the AT&T code and replace it.
It would be nice to see the SCO-Caldera people solve their money problems without attempting to license and/or enforce and/or charge for any IP in the Linux kernel and/or GNU/Linux to which it might be able to lay claim. Moreover, to whatever extent SCO-Caldera might have IP in the Linux kernel and/or GNU/Linux to which it might be able to lay claim, it would be nice to see SCO-Caldera put such intellectual property in the public domain.
There's more to come. So please stay tuned.
What about Linux, OpenOrg.
What is Linux?, Kernel.Org.
Articles, Periodicals, Etc.
Is Linux Right for You? Roger Chang in his TechTV article
Linux and the GNU Project Richard Stallman
SCO casts wider net for infringers Stephen Shankland, CNET, January 22, 2003
SCO fees may hit some Linux users Stephen Shankland, CNET, January 14, 2003
SCO says it has made no decision on Unix "IP" Tina Gasperson, NewsForge, January 13, 2003
SCO Threatens to Press IP Claims on Linux Maureen O'Gara, LimuxGram, January 10, 2003
Some Confusing or Loaded Words and Phrases that are Worth Avoiding Richard Stallman
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