Novell Inc. won a software copyright trial against SCO Group Inc. on Tuesday, ending a seven-year war that ignited the religious passions of open-source programmers.
SCO launched lawsuits against companies like Novell and IBM Corp., alleging that the open-source operating system Linux was infringing on SCO's Unix copyrights. The open-source community howled that that was an assault on the free development and distribution of software.
"It was really the first suit, and I think to date one of the only suits, about an open source being infringing," said Heather Meeker, an open-source expert at Greenberg Traurig in East Palo Alto, Calif. "People thought it was a big threat, and then it became clear that it was an overblown threat and that it was really a last-ditch effort by a struggling company with few prospects."
Novell had already beaten SCO on some of the major issues on summary judgment. The extended legal battle had also forced SCO into bankruptcy. An appeals court ordered a trial on the issue of ownership, with SCO seeking $200 million in damages.
Michael Jacobs, a Morrison & Foerster partner who represented Novell, said it was a win for the company -- and supporters of open-source software.
"If this verdict continues to be sustained, they will not be able to go after the Linux community," said Jacobs. Even though the case incited a religious fervor, the final verdict turned on mundane issues of contract law: whether or not Novell had transferred certain rights to SCO during an asset sale more than a decade ago. The 12-person jury answered "no" unanimously.
SCO didn't return an e-mail seeking comment. It was represented by Boies, Schiller & Flexner.
There was a great outpouring of happiness from commenters on the blog Groklaw, which was created to cover SCO lawsuits. "Three Cheers for Novell! and God bless them for their patience and persistence," was the first of 873 and counting comments on the blog post announcing the jury verdict.
Greenberg's Meeker said the victory was largely symbolic, with the success of open-source software in recent years. "If there was a battle against Linux, it was lost long ago," she said.
The SCO Group, a software company, is headquartered in Lindon, Utah. Earlier this month, it announced that it had secured bankruptcy court approval and funding for $2 million in postpetition financing from a group of private lenders. Proceeds from the financing were to be used to fund the company's operating and administrative expenses, as well as litigation-related expenses, according to an SCO press release. It added, "This financing is intended to allow for the preservation of the value of the company's business while enabling the company to proceed with asset sales, continue supporting SCO's loyal UNIX customer base and to pursue litigation against, among others, IBM and Novell."