3 October 2003 Workstation vendor SGI has rebuffed SCO Group’s threat to revoke its Unix licence. In an open letter, SGI’s Rich Altmaier, vice president of software, said that the company’s Unix licence covered it against all possible claims over Linux intellectual property.
SCO is pursuing SGI because it claims that SGI has donated a “derivative work” of Unix, its XFS file system technology, to the open source operating system Linux.
Much of SCO’s Linux intellectual property infringement claims derive from its broad interpretation of what amounts to a ‘derivative work’. The Unix licences held by IBM, SGI and others explicitly state that any derivative works of the original Unix belong to SCO.
However, IBM and SGO counter that the functions that they have developed work on top of the operating system, are not derivative works and therefore SCO has no right either to claim ownership of them or intellectual property violations.
This SGI’s Altmaier makes clear in his letter: “XFS is an innovative SGI-created work. It is not a derivative work of System V in any sense and SGI has full rights to license it to whomever we choose and to contribute it to open source.”
“It may be that SCO is taking the position that merely because XFS is also distributed along with Irix [SGI’s Unix] it is somehow subject to the System V license. But if so, this is an absurd position, with no basis either in the license or in common sense.”
Altmaier also believes that SCO has mis-read the licence agreement between the two companies. “In fact, our Unix license clearly provides that SGI retains ownership and all rights as to all code that was not part of AT&Ts Unix System V,” he concludes.
But Chris Sontag, general manager of SCO’s intellectual property licensing division SCOSource, has indicated that SCO could pursue virtually every operating system maker on Earth.
In a July 2003 interview with Byte magazine, Sontag said: “We believe that Unix System V provided the basic building blocks for all subsequent computer operating systems and that they all tend to be derived from Unix System V (and therefore, are claimed as SCO’s intellectual property)”.
System V Unix was developed at the laboratories of AT&T, originally as an operating system for running the giant US telecom operator’s switches. AT&T started licensing the operating system in the mid-1980s, before selling off the Unix division in 1993.