The prospect of a company being able to charge a license fee for using the Linux code remains open as a result of a 2001 court case

The prospect of a company being able to charge a license fee for using the Linux code remains open as a result of a 2001 court case

News Summary:

  • It is not a derivative; rather, it is a clone that was created from scratch to function extremely similarly to the original (making application porting easy). To be more precise, Linux was directly modelled after MINIX, a different Unix-based operating system, at the time of its creation.

  • Many people mistakenly believe that because GNU/Linux is referred to as an operating system belonging to the Unix family, the original Unix built by AT&T, the latter was developed using code from the former. However, this is untrue: The relationship between Linux and Unix, or what we correctly refer to as “Linux,” is similar to that between ReactOS and Windows.

This allowed us to conclude that Linux wouldn’t be affected in any way by the numerous legal difficulties that currently surround ownership of the rights to the Unix operating system code. But the truth is a little more nuanced.

Santa Cruz Operation creates the “Monterey Project” in 1998 with the intention of working together to create a version of Linux that can run on various hardware platforms, including those of the titans IBM and Intel.

Let’s settle in. 1993 saw the acquisition of AT&T Unix Systems Laboratories by Novell (along with the intellectual property of the products developed there). Novell resells said section to Santa Cruz Operation at the end of the same year. The latter, however, does not acquire all of its intellectual property rights; rather, Novell retains some of them.

2001: IBM (owner of a Unix clone named AIX) determines that the Linux community is succeeding better at completing the Monterey Project’s mission than this one, therefore he decides to drop it and continue supporting Linux. Contributes some AIX code to the Linux kernel development as part of this support.

Problem? Santa Cruz Operation believed that its former collaborators were utilising their own contributions to support a commercial Unix rival because IBM developed those components of AIX after their engagement with the Monterey Project started.

The same year, the Santa Cruz Operation makes the decision to abandon Unix and sells its rights to it to a separate subsidiary business called Caldera. Caldera will later file a lawsuit against IBM and RedHat in 2003, claiming ownership of the code supplied by IBM and already present in the Linux kernel.

The Linux community has been worried about the potential legal repercussions of this complex litigation for four years. Before Caldera, which was later renamed SCO Group, filed for bankruptcy in 2007, it lost its first trial relating to Linux, another one against Novell about his Unix rights, and was additionally being sued for slander by RedHat and SUSE. Four more years pass, and in 2011, the SCO Group rights are sold to UnXis (now Xinuos), while the original (now known as TSG Group) continues to pursue its lawsuit against IBM and the rest of the firm, leading to the 2013 reactivation of the case by a judge.

Currently, the old Unix rights are dispersed among three organisations that we are aware of: a large technology corporation (Novell), a company that is insolvent (SCO/TSG Group), and a company that creates Unix systems for servers (Xinuos). Several brands and businesses have fought with IBM over the ownership of a portion of the Linux source code.

The case has been unopened during the entire period of time… But I work in a courtroom where the Linux community kept working on its operating system while the lawyers kept suing each other for money. The potential to claim partial ownership over a kernel that not only has many more desktop users today than it did in 2003… but also is present at the core of the dominant operating system in the mobile sector (Android), installing millions of new copies of it every year, is the prize that is at stake. Consider for a moment how much revenue in canon there might be in the event that one of the Santa Cruz Operation’s successors finally prevails in court.

But as we discovered a year ago, TSG Group’s legal journey had abruptly come to an end. The judicial receiver that the state of Delaware had chosen to oversee the business had advised reaching a settlement with IBM before “the uncertain final result of the claims” TSG had brought against it. In return, IBM would give its ailing rival $14.25 million in cash to help it survive. Case resolved? Okay, no! Because it’s important to keep in mind that TSG Group sold its Unix rights to Xinuos, who in March 2021 sued IBM and requested that his purchase of RedHat (for $34 billion) be voided as part of a “conspiracy” against UNIX.

In any case, this Xinuos action left a door open to a potential software earthquake when it should have been entirely closed. IBM has called their claims “baseless” and, of course, it seems unlikely that any court will order it to stop using RedHat in the near future.

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