Unix, or the Brooklyn Bridge…

So, is there anyone that follows Open Source that didn’t hear about the ruling Friday that Novell owns the Unix and UnixWare copyrights?

If not you can read about it here, here, here and here.

I will admit that I was not very familiar with all the details of the case other than what was discussed in the blogosphere. It was overwhelmingly one sided against SCO, but even discounting the biased rhetoric, I was pretty sure that SCO’s case was pretty flimsy.

But when I read the GrokLaw headline ‘Court Rules: Novell owns the UNIX and UnixWare copyrights!…‘ it occured to me that if Novell owned the copyright, what did SCO buy??

So I Googled it and Bingo! The first hit was exactly what I was looking for. A 4,500 word article by David Berlind from 2003 titled “What did SCO buy–Unix or the Brooklyn Bridge?” that went through this exact question.

There he writes:

SCO interprets the final language behind the purchase of Unix from Novell one way. Novell sees it differently. Now, it’s up to a judge to decide. In the end, someone–probably one of the lawyers who helped to draft the agreements between Novell and SCO and who then explained those agreements to either Novell or SCO’s top brass–will be proven to have made a critical and stunning mistake (emphasis mine).

Do you think?

Without the Copyrights to Unix, SCO’s argument is dead in the water. The article continues:

For the most part, SCO’s interpretation is that it literally bought Unix, a purchase that entitled the company to the same control over Unix that the operating system’s first owner — AT&T — had over it and that has been inextricably connected to the OS each time ownership has changed hands before finally ending up with SCO.

Novell, on the other hand, says that it didn’t sell the same “package” that was bought and sold before, but rather just enough of it to allow SCO to build a Unix business.


Whereas Novell paid approximately $800 million for Unix, SCO paid approximately $100 million. According to Novell officials, it sold Unix because it wanted to be “out of the Unix business,” but the company still wanted a return on its substantial investment.

Maybe SCO should have realized the bargain they thought they were getting was was too good to be true, and should have realized that paying $100M wasn’t going to get them the same asset that cost Novell $800M.


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