Moreover, if SCO succeeds, that would also have an effect on the versions of Linux out in the market, because developers and clients would be forced to obtain an additional license for the right to use whatever SCO technology the court decides has been used without the proper permission, Kelly said, adding that this would not apply to users of SCO's Linux software.
SCO has an uphill road to climb because misappropriation of trade secrets and tortious interference are difficult legal claims to prove, said Brian Ferguson, a partner in McDermott, Will & Emery's intellectual property department.
However, if SCO succeeds in its biggest claim, which is misappropriation of trade secrets, the implications for the industry as a whole could be significant,
"If the court determines SCO has trade-secret rights over the concept of Unix in general, which again is going to be very difficult to prove, … any company that has used a Unix-based system and had access to the Unix source code, could very well be found in violation of those trade secrets,"
But for SCO to prove theft of trade secrets, it will have to prove that the IBM engineers working on AIX have either also been working on Linux, or passing on trade secrets to the Linux team. "For the complaint to have merit, that's what SCO is going to have to prove ... and it's not clear from the complaint that that indeed has happened,"
The case, which could very well drag on for years, especially if IBM files a counterclaim, definitely casts a shadow over the industry, as it's very likely that most IT companies will at least do due diligence internally in response to this lawsuit to assess their level of exposure to a possible SCO lawsuit, Ferguson said. "It's not going to cause developers, vendors and clients to freeze, but it has certainly made things more complicated,"
Eric S. Raymond, president of the Open Source Initiative, a nonprofit corporation that promotes the concept of open-source software, said SCO's chances of succeeding against the much bigger IBM are "vanishingly small."
"SCO's motivation is desperation, because it doesn't have a business left," Raymond said, referring to the financial problems the company has faced.
In the unlikely case SCO wins this lawsuit, the implications for Linux will be small because the open-source community will abandon whatever piece of SCO technology is deemed wronged by the court and "reengineer (Linux) around it," he said.
"If I were an AIX customer, I might see a small downside risk, but Linux customers certainly shouldn't worry," he said.
Asked if he's concerned this legal action might make open-source developers afraid and affect Linux innovation, Raymond laughed and said: "Linux hackers aren't really good at being afraid of things."
He called for the open-source community to rally around IBM, not just because it's a major ally, but because SCO's actions set a bad ethical and moral precedent. "The history is that much of the commercial value SCO is alleging IBM destroyed was actually created by open-source hackers back in the 1970s and 1980s," Raymond said.
(Scarlet Pruitt in