The former employers of developers that worked on software that became the first version of Unix will shortly file a massive claim in the US Supreme Court, alleging that proper licensing of all subsequent Unixes, Unix-variants, Unix-like operating systems and open source software inspired by Unix has improperly used its intellectual property.
The suit seeks restrospective licensing fees dating back to 1969 and is expected to throw the entire IT community into chaos.
TechTarget ANZ has learned of the lawsuit through contacts in Washington, where a group of former open source zealots spurned during a nasty forking dispute turned their attention to forensic code analysis.
That legal work was shared with Bell Labs, MIT and other employers of the original Unix coders, who TechTarget ANZ understands will launch the lawsuit on the first day of the month, US time.
"The bottom line is that Unix was never properly licensed, not in any of its variants," said a representative of the legal group. "The original work was protected, but never observed. Royalties are clearly due. The logic stands up magnificently under black letter law."
"We expect that anyone that has ever used Unix or software inspired based on Unix concepts will get a bill shortly," the source said. "That goes for Linux too. The party is over for free, open source software."
One Australian business who spoke to TechTarget ANZ on the condition of confidentiality called the lawsuit "devastating."
"We were asked to participate in an assessment of the legal logic," said a representative. "Our organisation used a lot of VAX in the 70s, plenty of SunOS in the 80s and we had a lot of DG/UX licenses in the 1990s. It seems unavodable that we are up for retrospective millions."
Analysts said the lawsuit will stifle investment in other IT.
"This is our very own sub-prime," one told TechTarget. "All the oxygen has gone from IT for at least a year."
TechTarget ANZ will update the story at noon today, when we expect the full truth of the matter to be exposed.