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The end, finally, at last, hopefully? Jury finds Novell retained UNIX copyrights

By Scott M. Fulton, III, Betanews

Novell 'N' top story badgeAs first reported this afternoon by Groklaw, the publication that made its name covering the ugliest chapter in the history of computing, a jury in Utah district court has found that the copyrights to UNIX were never transferred to the original Santa Cruz Operation by way of a 1995 asset purchase agreement.

The decision may finally put to rest a 15-year-old argument over who, or what, has the rights to UNIX.

Several changes in leadership ago, Novell changed its mind about pursuing developing “UnixWare,” and had thought it was entering into an agreement with SCO (again, several changes in leadership ago) that would enable the two to pursue a different UNIX strategy in cooperation with IBM. That cooperation absolutely never manifest itself, as it became tremendously unclear among all parties just what was agreed to — even to the extent that the instruments of the agreement itself were challenged.

The legal tangle quite literally drove some of those involved mad. As for SCO, as of last October, it’s a skeleton operation in receivership that cut off official ties with its notorious former CEO, Darl McBride, and that devoted its only remaining resources towards driving its legal operation on autopilot. The August 2007 judgment in Novell’s favor — effectively ruling the same thing the jury decided today — would have actually been a blessing for SCO, enabling it to become a company that made products again, were it not for an Appeals Court ruling two years later stating the matter was too complex for the judge to have issued a summary judgment.

Groklaw’s reporter on the scene this morning knew something was up when, from his post at a café across the street, he saw many suited people, including former CEO McBride, entering the courtroom. A half-hour later, the jury informed the judge it had reached a verdict. Moments later, each juror was polled, had the amended asset purchase agreement not transferred UNIX copyrights from Novell to SCO? And each one answered in the affirmative.

As the Salt Lake Tribune reports this afternoon, the court-appointed trustee for SCO, Edward Cahn, said the company he manages will continue to press its lawsuit against IBM, on the basis of contracts that SCO claims IBM violated. Cahn may not have any choice at this point, as the trustee of the closest thing the computing industry has ever seen to a zombie.

Although Pamela Jones’ Groklaw report this afternoon began with the words “It’s over,” she conceded this doesn’t yet signify the official closing of the curtain: “Of course, it’s possible they might appeal. I’ve learned when it comes to SCO never to assume it’s over, just because it should be over…Even in this Novell trial, there are some issues the judge has yet to decide. This saga is not finished.”

That doesn’t mean the leading Linux advocate isn’t celebrating: “And don’t you want to thank the jury? I know I do. Did I not tell you that juries can be trusted? I hope this helps some of you cynics.”

Copyright Betanews, Inc. 2010

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