Q&A: SCO's Chris Sontag on how Unix plus Linux equals trouble
IDG News Service - The SCO Group, arguably, isn't making many friends in the Linux camp these days. Last month, it filed a $1 billion lawsuit against IBM for allegedly misusing Unix code to bolster Linux efforts (see story). SCO owns Unix System V code, which IBM had licensed to build AIX. SCO now acknowledges that it may extend its legal activities to Linux distributors SuSE Linux AG and Red Hat Inc., and doesn't rule out action against users of the open-source operating system.
The move wouldn't be so unusual if not for the fact that SCO is a founding member of UnitedLinux, a group of companies that have united to distribute Linux software worldwide.
Chris Sontag, senior vice president and general manager of SCOsource, the SCO division in charge of managing and protecting the company's Unix intellectual property, spoke with IDG News Service about SuSE, UnitedLinux, IBM and Linux users. His overall message is that Linux developers, distributors and customers are using code that doesn't belong to them and that if they don't settle up with the Lindon, Utah, software company, they can expect to see their day in court.
SuSE feels protected against any legal action you may consider because of contracts with SCO and with UnitedLinux in which you are a member. Do SuSE and other Linux distributors including Red Hat have reason to be worried? Regarding contracts we have with SuSE and UnitedLinux, I would unequivocally state that there is nothing in those contracts that provides them with any protection or shelter in the way they are characterizing this in the press. If I were them, I would not be making those kinds of statements.
Are you planning any legal action against SuSE or Red Hat? We have no action planned at this time. Our focus is on the IBM lawsuit. This does not mean, however, that we will not initiate other actions to protect our intellectual property at a future point.
You're a member of UnitedLinux. Would you say that your lawsuit has caused some friction within that group? Yes, there is some friction. But we've been doing our best to have open dialogues with the other participants and members in UnitedLinux. Darl McBride, the CEO of SCO, has had numerous conversations with the other CEOs within UnitedLinux. We've been doing everything we can to keep the dialogue open and are trying to work to conclusions that will be amicable for all the parties involved. We haven't come to a good conclusion yet. But we're always hopeful.
Wouldn't you agree that your legal action is causing uncertainty in the Linux community and that this uncertainty is undermining the marketing efforts of UnitedLinux? There is definitely uncertainty and doubt. And there are problems identified within the Linux community. We were not the first ones to raise the intellectual property issue, but we certainly have a major issue now. Since digging into the lawsuit with IBM, we've become very aware of issues related to Linux and other areas.
So what's your goal? Our hope is that we can bring this to a full conclusion so that everyone has a final understanding in terms of intellectual property issues.
Some people are beginning to question if SCO isn't more focused on Unix these days than on Linux. Are you still committed to Linux? Our primary focus has always been on Unix. Our efforts related to Linux have been to provide choices and multiple solutions to our customers. This hasn't changed.
Could you imagine pulling out of UnitedLinux if there is some continued friction in the group? We're evaluating all our initiatives related to Linux right now. We have no announcements to make regarding what we may or may not be doing at this point. But certainly we will have to reassess the businesses, opportunities and issues in the marketplace and make appropriate adjustments as we go along.
So abandoning UnitedLinux is a possibility? I'd prefer to defer that question for now.
What prompted you to initiate the IBM lawsuit when you did? Why now and not a year ago? We had started working on SCO source-related initiatives late last year. We began digging into a lot of issues and started having some concerns. Then we went to LinuxWorld early this year and heard statements from Steve Mills, a senior executive at IBM responsible for the company's overall software strategy. Basically, he said that IBM will exploit its expertise in AIX to bring Linux up to par with Unix and went on to say a lot of other things, like trying to help obliterate Unix. IBM is a licensee of Unix technology from SCO, originating back to contracts with AT&T Corp. So IBM's position became a big problem for us.
IBM is a big company with deep pockets and plenty of political clout. Do you think you can win the case? We're very confident about the case. We believe we have significant evidence to present at the appropriate time in court.
What is the next step? SCO made its initial filing. IBM was supposed to respond within 30 days. They requested an extension of 30 days, which we granted them. So after 60 days, they responded with basically nothing -- a very vanilla law school 101-type level response, which was rather surprising. This month, we will have meetings that will occur between attorneys on both sides and some scheduling hearings with the judge. Then we will move into the phase of gathering documents, evidence and depositions from all parties we believe are appropriate to this lawsuit. The steps beyond that are up to the judge.
Could this go on for months, even years? A complex legal issue like this could take years. However, we think we'll be able to have the issue expedited more quickly due to the damages that it is causing SCO. We also have contractual obligations to IBM related to our license of Unix System V source code, which IBM has used for AIX. We have the ability to withdraw or pull the AIX license on June 13, which should cause IBM to expedite this issue as well.
What about SuSE and Red Hat customers and other Linux users? Could they face litigation or be affected in any way? Certainly, as the evidence mounts, there could be concerns and issues for end customers. When you're talking about copyrighted materials or trade secrets being inappropriately obtained and released, even the recipients of that information have to have concerns.
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