SCO's Linux licensing program has proved controversial in the United States since launching last year, after the company claimed Linux extensively infringed its Unix System V intellectual property. SCO, in its previous incarnation as Caldera Systems, had acquired some rights to Unix when it bought the operating-systems division from the original Santa Cruz-based SCO. Caldera Systems renamed itself SCO after the takeover, while the remains of the original SCO became Tarantella.
Many open-source and free-software advocates have contested SCO's claims, while the company has pressed ahead with threats of legal action against American companies that use Linux. Several Linux vendors have offered their customers indemnity against legal action from SCO.
Nevertheless, SCO describes its intellectual property license for Linux as a run-time license that "permits the use of SCOís intellectual property, in binary form only, as contained in Linux distributions." By purchasing an SCO IP license, the software vendor says, companies "avoid infringement of SCO's intellectual property and copyrights as is currently found in Linux."
Announcing availability of the licenses worldwide, Chris Sontag, senior vice president and general manager of SCOsource, which is the company's intellectual property licensing arm, conceded that the offer is a double-edged sword.
Companies outside the United States that use Linux could already buy a license from SCOsource under the existing license program running within the United States. But the explicit offer of licenses worldwide brings with it the implicit threat of legal action for those who do not comply.
The first lawsuits are now only weeks away, according to Sontag. "I would expect within the next few weeks we will have a number of Linux end users who we will have identified and taken legal action (against)," Sontag told ZDNet UK. "We will probably see that ramping up over time."
The lawsuits will be brought in various locations around the world, Sontag said. "We are going to start vigorously enforcing IP rights."
Sontag said there is a possibility that the first round of lawsuits could include U.K. companies, but it was likely to focus on companies maintaining large Linux deployments with whom SCOsource has already had "unsuccessful" discussions. These are likely to be high-profile companies, according to sources.
ZDNet U.K.'s Matt Loney reported from London.