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Sunday, August 31, 2003

SCO Has a Patent --
Not Linux Kernel-Related

I noted with a measure of alarm that SCO has been granted a patent, as of March 4, 2003. It's Number 6,529,784 and it's a patent they applied for in 2000. That's the one weapon they didn't have, and I was glad they didn't. Here's what it does:

"Method and apparatus for monitoring computer systems and alerting users of actual or potential system errors


"A method for providing system management services to a customer's network of target computers through a communications network is described. Service subscribers have at least one target computer system. Each target computer system has a hardware configuration and a software configuration. An agent process is hosted on at least one target computer system of each subscriber. Each agent communicates with a centralized control server through a communication link. The control server manages the hardware or software configurations of the target computer systems through the server. By centralizing the resources for managing the computing resources of several subscribers at a single control server, the need for redundant management resources at each subscriber is reduced or eliminated. A method for providing a customer system management information in response to receiving information about the customer's target computer system is also described."

And here is how they summarize their description of what it does:


"Generally, an embodiment of the present invention is directed to a method and system for managing a network of target computers. Another embodiment of the invention is directed to agents for collecting configuration, diagnostic, frequency of use or other information from the target computer system and transmitting the collected information to a central control server. The control server receives the information and accesses relevant information from a database of software information. The control server then formats and transmits this information to the agent. The agent may act on the information directly or may display the information to a user through a management tool GUI.

"Another embodiment of the present invention is directed to a method of providing system management services to a network of target computers including the steps of enrolling customers to receive computer system management services for a fee, receiving information about the customer network from agents associated with target computer systems, comparing the target computer system information with software and hardware information stored in a database and transmitting that information to the customer."

I didn't understand what that means, except in the most superficial way, and so I wrote to programmer Karsten Self, who describes himself as "free software legal issues wonk, and maintainer of  the SCO vs. IBM wiki" to ask him if this might come into play in the Linux kernel fight. He says not in his opinion, at least not at first glance:

"The '784 patent has nothing to do with the Linux kernel, regards its essential function.

"The patent describes a network-based centralized monitoring and configuration utility for managing and automating software package installation and updates, specifically over the Internet.  A    possible implementation is something along the lines of up2date (an RPM-based package management tool).

"Much of this is the sort of thing any half-competent 'Nix system administrator ends up setting up to manage their network or cluster.

"The Debian GNU/Linux packaging system, dating from 1994, performs    much, though not all, of this functionality.  apt-get, specifically, was released in April, 1998.  Another tool, Nagios, provides remote system monitoring of a very flexible nature.  A mailing list post I find references mon which predates the '784 filing date of Feb, 2000.

"Note that there are two patents held by Tarentella f/k/a SCO (The Santa Cruz Operation)

"- 6,362,836 - Universal application server for providing applications on a variety of client devices in a client/server  network

"- 6,104,392 Method of displaying an application on a variety of client devices in a client/server network."

Of course, getting a patent doesn't mean it can't be challenged in court, based on prior art, etc. And that's why I thought it'd be worth letting you know about it. As The New Yorker said in an article on patents and the new "intellectual property" wars, entitled "Patent Bending": "The new regime's defenders insist that in today's economy such vigilance is necessary: ideas are the source of our competitive strength. Fair enough. But you don't compete by outlawing your competition." Oh, yes they do, and I think we can rely on it that this is exactly what SCO can be counted on to try to use this for, which is why vigilance is necessary on all sides.

Anybody have any handy prior art in a back pocket ?

comment [] 12:47:02 PM    

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