IBM subpoenas major tech firms over SCO dealings

Hinting at a revelatory period in the multi-billion dollar Unix IP lawsuit

Matt Whipp
22 Feb 2006

IBM has subpoenaed major tech firms and investors to come clean about their relationship with SCO, hinting at a revelatory period in the multi-billion dollar Unix IP suit.

SCO, which alleges IBM has improperly used Unix intellectual property it claims as its own, forged a series of agreements that added confidence to its position in the years before and since it launched its suit.

Now, as the two adversaries enter the final period to assemble their evidence, IBM has called upon Microsoft, Sun and HP, as well as investors BayStar Capital to reveal the fine detail of those communications.

The subpoenas hint at potentially explosive revelations: not least, the nature of the relationship between Microsoft and SCO; its hand in BayStar's decision to invest $50m in SCO; and its licensing agreement, which added another $16.6mn to SCO's coffers, already under strain from its legal fees.

In addition it seeks detailed knowledge of Microsoft's entire Linux strategy. The BayStar subpoena even goes as far as requesting efforts to comply with a previous BayStar subpoena.

From Sun, IBM wants to know exactly what its rights are and what activities it has engaged in with relation to Unix and Linux development, as well as licensing deals with both SCO and its predecessors in Unix ownership, Novell, Caldera, AT&T and so on. This too could prove revelatory, as Sun's moves to open source its Unix products, such as the Solaris platform, at least on the face of it appear similar to those that SCO is accusing IBM of having made on a smaller scale.

From HP, IBM is also asking for details of all Unix licensing agreements and open-source activities as well as how HP's products running its own Unix platform compete with HP boxes running SCO systems, which it also sells.

And indeed IBM wants to know what efforts companies have gone to in order to prevent Unix IP being passed to those working on open-source projects.

Pamela Jones, who runs the Groklaw site that breaks down the case in granular detail, told us: 'My hunch is [IBM] believes at least Microsoft is behind the SCO litigation, if not Sun also... I also see [IBM is] looking to present evidence that others, such as HP and Sun, have had access to the same Unix code and have contributed to Linux, while SCO is trying to say IBM is violative for doing the same thing.'

Conspiracies have been rife as to the involvement of these companies, particularly Microsoft, as it seeks to fend off the rise of Linux. When Eric Raymond was sent an email in 2004 that implied the hand of Redmond, SCO claimed the email was genuine, but the result of a misunderstanding. The depositions set for next month will reveal exactly what was going on.

Similarly they will answer long held questions such as how Sun ever had the rights to open-source an entire Unix platform while Linux users were being sent letters demanding licensing fees for their use of Unix IP in an open-source product.

Finally, they should also shed light on the difference in Unix licensing agreements offered by Novell and SCO. SCO is in court with Novell trying to establish its rights as to the complete ownership of Unix assets, which Novell disputes. Seeing these agreements side by side may help clarify the ownership rights of both parties to Unix.

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