IBM Launches Counter-Attack In Linux Cases - InformationWeek

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Software // Enterprise Applications

IBM Launches Counter-Attack In Linux Cases

Hewlett-Packard has promised to indemnify its Linux customers in the event of legal action by SCO, but an IBM VP says an indemnification policy could prevent users from fully exploiting the operating system.

In a counterclaim to a patent-infringement lawsuit filed against it by the SCO Group, IBM says SCO violated its intellectual property rights by distributing a version of Linux that contains IBM-made enhancements. While that wouldn't ordinarily be a problem--Linux licensees are generally allowed to distribute modified versions of the open-source operating system--IBM says SCO violated the Linux distribution policy, or General Public License, by claiming proprietary rights over the technology. That now makes it illegal for SCO to distribute Linux, IBM says.

SCO has claimed a copyright over parts of Linux and has threatened to sue Linux users who don't obtain a license to run the operating system from SCO. In a move to assuage user fears, Hewlett-Packard has promised to indemnify its Linux customers in the event of legal action by SCO.

IBM, however, says indemnification could create practical problems for users. In a memo to his staff obtained by InformationWeek, Bob Samson, IBM VP for system sales, said an indemnification policy could prevent users from fully exploiting Linux. "IBM and most other industry leaders do not indemnify for open source code...Most indemnities are narrowly drawn and are often invalidated by customer activities, such as making modifications," Samson wrote. IBM says it would prefer to resolve the matter in the courts.

However, some analysts say IBM is merely attempting to discredit HP's indemnification policy because it's not in a position to offer users the same protection. "They are a party to the lawsuit, so they can't indemnify," says Rob Enderle of the Enderle Group.

IBM also charges in the countersuit that SCO's attempts to claim ownership over parts of Linux technology has damaged the open-source movement and artificially inflated SCO's stock price.

IBM is seeking unspecified damages. The case was filed in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City.

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