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It’s alive! Utah software company’s decade-old suit against IBM revived

First Published      Last Updated Mar 18 2015 09:54 pm

Litigation » Pending for a dozen years, lawsuit claims IBM misappropriated computer code.

Nearly 12 years after it was filed, a lawsuit against IBM Corp. that riled the open-source computer code community is back on the federal court docket in Utah.

The nearly defunct Utah company SCO Group Inc. and IBM filed a joint report to the U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City saying that legal issues remain in the case, which was initiated in 2003 with SCO claiming damages of $5 billion against the technology giant, based in Armonk, N.Y.

That likely means that U.S. District Judge David Nuffer, who now presides over the dispute, will start moving the lawsuit — largely dormant for about four years while a related suit against Novell Inc. was adjudicated — ahead.

The case involves SCO's claims that IBM misappropriated code from the Unix computer operating system software, owned by SCO. The company claimed that IBM used that code to make the fledgling Linux open source code into a competitor to Unix.

Open-source code is free and open to anyone to take and use, and a fervent community of coders who'd grown to support Linux development reacted negatively when SCO claimed Linux was made viable for use by large businesses only through IBM's misappropriation of parts of its Unix system.

SCO is asking Nuffer, the seventh U.S. District judge in Utah to be assigned to the case, to set a trial date.

"We're happy to have the opportunity to go to court on our remaining claims," said Edward Cahn, a former federal judge who has operated SCO Group since he was appointed trustee after the former Lindon company filed for bankruptcy protection in 2007 following a negative court ruling.

Before any trial date is set, IBM wants Nuffer to decide whether to grant its motions to dismiss SCO's remaining claims against the company.

In addition to its claims of IBM misappropriation of code, SCO alleges that IBM executives and lawyers directed the company's Linux programmers to destroy source code on their computers after SCO made its allegations.

The company's other remaining claims are that IBM's actions amounted to unfair competition and interference with its contracts and business relations with other companies.

IBM has remaining claims against SCO that allege the Utah company violated contracts, copied and distributed IBM code that had been placed in Linux and that SCO created a campaign of "fear, uncertainty and doubt" about IBM's products and services because of the dispute over Unix code.

IBM had no immediate comment on the revival of the case.

SCO filed a related lawsuit against Novell in 2004 after Novell asserted it owned the copyrights to the Unix system and had only licensed its use to SCO. A jury decided in March 2010 that Novell owned the copyrights to Unix prior to December 1995, when it entered an asset purchase agreement.

But the verdict also meant that SCO owned Unix developments it instituted after that date.

That decision meant that several of SCO's claims against IBM were moot. Unix was sold to another company as part of SCO's bankruptcy.

The bankruptcy case is still pending but SCO's only remaining operations are to pursue the lawsuit against IBM.