Microsoft has agreed to license Unix technology from The SCO Group in a move that could support SCO's controversial efforts to collect royalties from companies using the open source Linux operating system, a Unix clone, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday, quoting a Microsoft official.

Under the deal, Microsoft will license Unix patents and source code from SCO for an undisclosed amount, according to the report.

Microsoft in Europe could not be immediately reached for comment.

Officials from SCO in Europe referred inquiries to the U.S. parent company.

The move by Microsoft suggests that the deep-pocketed U.S. software company views SCO's patents as important, and could prompt other companies to sign license agreements to avoid litigation down the road.

It comes on the heels of two major developments: In March, SCO filed a $1 billion [b] lawsuit against IBM Corp. for allegedly misusing Unix code to bolster Linux efforts. [See "SCO sues IBM over Linux, seeks $1 billion," March 6.] And earlier this month, SCO said it will suspend its Linux business and warned commercial Linux users they may be liable for intellectual property violations that, it alleges, exist in the Linux source code. [ See "SCO drops Linux, warns Linux users," May 14.]

Unix was invented more than 30 years ago by AT&T Corp., which later sold the technology to Novell Inc. SCO acquired the patents and source code in 1995. Caldera Systems Inc, a distributor of Linux software, bought most of SCO's operations over two years ago and recently changed its name to SCO.

SCO, which now alleges that parts of its Unix source code have been copied into Linux, is mounting a huge campaign to exact fees for the use of its intellectual property rights.