Backgrounder on the UNIX® System
and SCO / IBM legal action


Regarding SCO's positioning on UNIX, The Open Group would like to make it clear that SCO holds the rights ONLY to the operating system source code (originally licensed by AT&T) and related intellectual property and DOES NOT OWN the UNIX trademark itself or the definition (the Single UNIX Specification) of what the UNIX system is.

Reference to the SCO web site shows that they own certain intellectual property and that they correctly attribute the trademark to The Open Group. SCO has never owned "UNIX". SCO is licensed to use the registered trademark UNIX "on and in connection" with their products that have been certified by The Open Group, as are all other licensees.

These are the ONLY circumstances in which a licensee may use the trademark UNIX on and in connection with its products.

Statements that SCO "owns the UNIX operating system" or has "licensed UNIX to XYZ", are clearly inaccurate and misleading.

Allen Brown, President & CEO The Open Group says:

Whoever said that, "the first casualty of war is truth" probably did not expect that it would be quoted in a dispute amongst systems vendors.

By now many of you will be aware that SCO Group has started legal proceedings against IBM. That action has turned into a war of words and those words very often serve to mislead or confuse, perhaps not intentionally but nevertheless fear, uncertainty and doubt is the inevitable result.

The reason this concerns The Open Group is that many organizations who procure UNIX systems, do so in the knowledge that an operating system that is certified by The Open Group to use the UNIX trademark, conforms to the Single UNIX Specification, will always conform and if it is found not to conform, will be rectified by the vendor at the vendor's expense.

Certification of conformance to standards is critical to the efficient operation of the market. Governments are particularly concerned with certified conformance to standards - it is a little late to find out on the battlefield that a piece of equipment does not meet a supplier's claims of conformance to standards. This is one example of the importance of a neutral third-party carrying out the certification process.

The Open Group is the owner of the UNIX trademark which it holds on behalf of the industry. This truth has not been entirely visible in the media, even though it is acknowledged on SCO Group products and on their web site.

The Open Group is a vendor-neutral organization. It has no opinion on who is right and who is wrong in the SCO Group case against IBM; we will leave that for the courts, the media and those with the time to write-in. However, we do care about customers and users of UNIX systems whose businesses, or in some cases, lives, depend upon the UNIX trademark as an indicator of trust, as they have done for a good number of years now.

The Open Group actively pursues anyone who puts this trademark in harm's way. Initially we seek to use education and persuasion to obtain the correct usage and attribution of the UNIX trademark. Only in very rarest of cases do we take legal action, usually after all other courses of action have failed.

The simple fact is that throughout all of this both SCO Group and IBM do have certified products, are licensed to and do use the UNIX trademark in association with certified products with the correct attribution.

You can help us to remind the industry of the ownership of the UNIX trademark and ensure that its proper use as a neutral indicator of certification for the benefit of customers of UNIX systems.

To help, is very simple, all you have to do is to publish the following attribution.

"UNIX is a registered trademark of The Open Group in the United States and other countries."


In 1994 Novell (who had acquired the UNIX systems business of AT&T/USL) decided to get out of that business. Rather than sell the business as a single entity, Novell transferred the rights to the UNIX trademark and the specification (that subsequently became the Single UNIX Specification) to The Open Group (at the time X/Open Company). Subsequently, it sold the UNIX System V source code and the product implementation (UNIXWARE) to SCO. The Open Group also owns the trademark UNIXWARE, transferred to them from SCO more recently.

As the owner of the UNIX trademark, The Open Group has separated the UNIX trademark from any actual code stream itself, thus allowing multiple implementations. Since the introduction of the Single UNIX Specification, there has been a single, open, consensus specification that defines the requirements for a conformant UNIX system.

There is also a mark, or brand, that is used to identify those products that have been certified as conforming to the Single UNIX Specification, initially UNIX 93, followed subsequently by UNIX 95, UNIX 98 and now UNIX 03. Both the specification and the UNIX trade mark are managed and held in trust for the industry by The Open Group.

SCO, along with all other vendors of UNIX systems (regardless of whether they are members of The Open Group or not), distributes a UNIX system that has been certified through The Open Group (and before that the X/Open) certification process.

How YOU can help

There is a simple guide to using the trademarks correctly below. In short, use the ® symbol on the trademark, use the ownership acknowledgement 'UNIX is a registered trademark of The Open Group in the United States and other countries.' in all printed materials, get it on your web site, and educate your colleagues and friends to do the same.

When you buy a system ask the vendor for a certificate of conformance, make it a requirement to be certified (all key open systems are certified, UNIX systems amongst them) in your procurements.



© The Open Group 1995-2004  Updated on Thursday, 5 February 2004