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SCO Group Accuses Linus Torvalds Of Laxity on Copyrights, Patents

By Steve Lohr

THE NEW YORK TIMES -- In a new court document, the SCO Group criticizes Linus Torvalds, the guardian of the freely shared Linux operating system.

SCO’s amended suit against IBM, filed late Monday, contends that Torvalds, who has overseen the development of Linux, appears to have a casual attitude toward intellectual property rights. Linux is distributed free and improved upon by a far-flung network of developers.

SCO, based in Lindon, Utah, sued IBM in March, contending that the computer company improperly copied Unix code into Linux.

SCO bought the source code and license rights to Unix in 1995. IBM denies the allegations and counters that SCO is vastly overstating its contract rights.

“If source code is copied from protected Unix code,” the SCO filing states, “there is no way for Linus Torvalds to identify that fact.”

Torvalds developed the software engine, or kernel, of Linux as a university student in Finland in 1991. Today, Torvalds lives in Silicon Valley and he still oversees the Linux kernel, though with many contributions from others.

SCO executives assert there is a “don’t ask, don’t tell” mentality toward intellectual property that pervades the Linux programming culture. As an example, they point to an e-mail message exchange last August on the Linux mailing list. One programmer said there was a patent matter that “we can’t just ignore.”

Torvalds replied, “Actually, we can, and I will,” adding, “I do not look up any patents on principle because (a) it’s a horrible waste of time and (b) I don’t want to know.”

“The fact is technical people are better off not looking at patents. If you don’t know what they cover and where they are, you won’t be knowingly infringing on them,” Torvalds wrote last August.

In an e-mail interview earlier this month, Torvalds explained that his was a candid view in the murky, complex realm of software patents these days.

“Hey, one of the advantages of not personally being involved in any of the commercial Linux players is that I can be honest,” Torvalds wrote. “In fact, openness pretty much requires it -- there is no corporate speak here. Ask any lawyer in a tech company (off the record, so that he can be honest too), and he’ll tell you that engineers should absolutely not try to look up other people’s patents. It’s not their job, and you don’t want them tainted.”