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Yes, Novell Owns Unix

Unix Ownership Settled

  • November 29, 2010
  • By Sean Michael Kerner
Novell is selling over 800 patents to Microsoft, but not their Unix copyrights.
Sean Michael Kerner

When Novell first announced that it was being acquired by Attachmate for $2.2 billion, the question of who would retain ownership over Unix copyrights was an open issue.

As part of the Novell sale, the company also revealed that it is selling 882 patents to a Microsoft-led technology consortium for $450 million. Potential ownership of Unix by the Microsoft-led group could have led to a new round of patent battles between Microsoft and the open source community. In a terse statement, Novell has now publicly stated that it will not be selling Unix as part of the patent sale.

"Novell will continue to own Novell´┐Żs UNIX copyrights following completion of the merger as a subsidiary of Attachmate," John Dragoon, Novell's Chief Marketing Officer said in a statement.

Novell has owned the Unix copyrights since 1993 when it acquired them from AT&T. Novell recently successfully defended its Unix ownership claim in a legal battle with SCO. Novell sold part of its interest in Unix to SCO back in 1995 and has been locked in a protracted legal battle with SCO since May of 2003 over ownership of Unix copyrights and patents. SCO has further alleged that Linux in some way infringes on the Unix copyrights and patents, which is why ownership of Unix has become a critical issue for the open source and Linux ecosystems.

Ownership over Unix isn't the only issue with the acquisition of Novell that has now been cleared up. Novell has been the lead sponsor of the openSUSE community Linux distribution since 2005 when it set up the community effort as a spinoff of the SUSE Pro Linux distribution.

"The openSUSE project is an important part of the SUSE business," commented Jeff Hawn, chairman and CEO of Attachmate Corporation in a statement. "If this transaction closes, then after closing, Attachmate Corporation anticipates no change to the relationship between the SUSE business and the openSUSE project as a result of this transaction."

Even with the issue of Unix and openSUSE now apparently solved, the Novell Attachmate deal is also potentially facing multiple challenges over the sale price. Multiple groups are now investigating potential class action lawsuits against Novell over all alleged breach of fiduciary duty. The investigations revolve around the issue of whether or not Novell's management got a bid that maximized shareholder value. Attachmate will be paying $6.10 per Novell share, while some analyst estimates had pegged Novell at a target value as high as $7.50.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

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