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3/4/2003
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Torvalds Sounds Off On SCO Lawsuit

The father of Linux says he's skeptical that the case has merit

Linus Torvalds won't render his own verdict on SCO Group's legal case against IBM until the Unix code in question is revealed in court.

In an E-mail response to CRN, a sister publication to InformationWeek, Torvalds, widely considered the father of Linux, said he is awaiting judgment until SCO identifies the Unix code IBM allegedly misappropriated and handed over to the open-source community. But at this point, he said he's skeptical the case has merit.

"SCO isn't even telling what they have, and I'm not a lawyer anyway," Torvalds wrote. "The people I've spoken to seem to think the merit of the case lies in whatever details, and since SCO hasn't disclosed any of those details, they can't say."

Torvalds compared the situation to Clonaid's debunked claim earlier this year that it had cloned a human infant.

"SCO is playing it like the Raelians the organization backed by Clonaid's founder, known as Rael, saying, 'We'll show you proof in a few weeks, through an expert panel that we trust.' Let's see if there is any baby or not."

Torvalds wrote he sees no "smoking gun" in the Linux code, nor does he hold IBM responsible for the dispute.

"I haven't seen anything that would imply that IBM has done anything wrong, so until I hear otherwise, I'm just assuming it's just a case of business as usual--when SCO can't make it in the market, sue and go after the deep pockets."

SCO officials insist the case it filed against IBM in March has legal merit, but refused to discuss the code in question.

For its part, IBM denied all of SCO's allegations in its response to the lawsuit filed on April 30. A court date has not yet been set, SCO officials said.

Some observers, particularly those in the Linux camp, speculate that SCO's motive is to get a quick settlement from IBM, while others say it is positioning itself--or its key Unix System V assets--for acquisition.

One source close to SCO confirmed that IBM lawyers are in "discussions about possible discussions" with SCO's legal team.

For its part, SCO officials insist its legal claims are valid and the code in question will be revealed in court.

"SCO does not comment on rumors or speculation," said Jeff Hunsaker, senior VP of worldwide marketing at SCO. "The only reason we are making these moves in the industry is to protect our intellectual property."

At least one attorney who specializes in intellectual property said that while he doesn't believe the case has legal merit, IBM might settle to prevent the case from dragging on and hampering its ability to migrate customers to Linux.

"I don't think there's a smoking gun, and it'll take a lot of hard work to identify what SCO thinks has gone wrong," said Tom Carey, a partner and chair of the business department at Bromberg & Sunstein, a Boston law firm that specializes in intellectual property. "My belief is that IBM is far too sophisticated a company not to create a Chinese wall between its AIX and Linux development groups and that they carefully thought through what AIX development work they might have created by itself, and what it would contribute to the open-source community. It's far too cautious a company with policies and procedures in place for that situation to occur. There's a low probability that there's a valid trade secret claim."

Carey noted that the Linux community will write around any technical problems once the code is revealed.

"It's in IBM's interest to have Linux clear of this situation and if the problem becomes serious enough, IBM will make it go away," the attorney added. "If trade secrets are the issue, it wouldn't be hard for the Linux community to recode the offending software."

This article appears courtesy of CRN, the newspaper for builders of technology solutions.

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