The SCO Group's legal attack on Linux is looking toothless after a judge ruled that Novell, not SCO, owns copyrights over Unix.

A Utah court has ruled that Novell is the owner of Unix and UnixWare copyrights, and dismissed SCO's charges of slander and breach of contract.

The judge also ruled that SCO owes Novell for SCO's licensing revenue from Sun and Microsoft. SCO will have to give Novell a portion of those licences, the judge said.

The amount of the payment will be determined in a trial, said Pamela Jones, founder and editor of Groklaw, a website that follows Topen-source software legal issues.

In another major blow to SCO, the judge said that because Novell is the owner of the Unix copyrights, it can tell SCO to waive its suits against IBM and Sequant. "SCO can't sue IBM for copyright infringement on copyrights it doesn't own," Jones said.

The ruling is good news for organisations that use open-source software products, said Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation. "From the perspective of someone who is adopting open-source solutions to run in the enterprise, it proves to them that the industry is going to defend the platform, and that when organisations attack it from a legal perspective, that the industry collectively will defend it," he said.

The decision is "abysmal" news for SCO, according to Zemlin. "Their future is looking bleak," he said. SCO did not reply to requests for comment.

In a statement, Novell said the ruling cut out the core of SCO's case and in the process eliminated SCO's threat to the Linux community.

Still outstanding are several counter-claims. For example, Novell's slander of title counter-claim against SCO is still ongoing and will go to trial, Jones said.

The case is so complex that the judge asked the parties to file a document with what they think is outstanding in the IBM case, Jones said. Those documents must be filed by the end of August.

The battle began in 2003 when SCO filed a suit against IBM claiming that it had violated SCO's rights by contributing Unix code to Linux. The following year, SCO sued Novell, saying that Novell falsely claimed it owned rights to Unix.

For its part, The SCO Group said it may not be done fighting yet. In a statement posted to ito the SCO website, the company said it was "obviously disappointed" with the district court ruling, but it noted that parts of the case are not yet resolved and hinted that it might file an appeal.