SCO says judge should order Novell to transfer Unix copyrights

Technology » Parties dispute whether jury verdict in lawsuit already decided issue.
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The SCO Group is asking a federal judge to order Novell Inc. to turn copyrights to the Unix computer operating system over to SCO despite a jury verdict that said a 1995 sales agreement did not include those assets.

Lindon-based SCO told U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart that the jury did not address the issue that he is to decide when it reached its verdict March 30 in the long-running legal battle over the ownership of software that is used by many businesses.

The parties agreed before trial that Stewart would decide several questions in the lawsuit filed by SCO in 2003, including one in which SCO contends that Novell breached the sales agreements by not transferring copyrights that are necessary for it to conduct its Unix business.

In a document filed last week in court in Salt Lake City, SCO contends the jury did not answer the specific issue before Stewart that involves a legal principle called "specific performance," under which a party can ask a court to order another party to fulfill an aspect of an agreement.

"The verdict here does not resolve SCO's claim for specific performance," the company said in its filing.

Novell, however, contends the opposite, that the jury already has decided the issue and that decision was supported by evidence presented at the trial.

"Novell disputes SCO's characterization of the evidence presented at trial and SCO's characterization of the jury's conclusion," Ian Bruce, Novell's director of public relations, said in an e-mail. "As such, Novell believes SCO's requested relief is not supported by the evidence or the jury's conclusion."

In its court filing, Novell said "SCO's claim for specific performance has been mooted by the jury's verdict and should be rejected on that basis alone."

The case has its origins in a 2003 lawsuit that SCO filed against IBM contending that the computer giant had used Unix as a model for codes in the Linux operating system that made Linux a commercial competitor and harmed SCO's business. SCO contends that IBM in essence bribed Novell with a $50 million investment to get Novell to claim it, and not SCO, owned the Unix copyrights, thereby blunting SCO's claims against IBM. SCO then sued Novell for interfering with its business.

The basis for Novell's claims is the ambiguous 1995 sales agreement in which Novell sold Unix. SCO contends that an amendment a year later to the agreement cleared up the copyright issue.

The jury was asked, "Did the amended Asset Purchase Agreement transfer the Unix and UnixWare copyrights from Novell to SCO?" It answered, "No," despite testimony from SCO, witnesses on both sides of the deal saying they intended to sell the copyrights along with the operating system.

SCO contends the jury could have meant various things by its verdict that do not preclude Stewart from ordering the transfer.