[TUHS] System Economics

Paul Winalski paul.winalski at gmail.com
Fri Mar 17 07:28:08 AEST 2017


On 3/16/17, Doug McIlroy <doug at cs.dartmouth.edu> wrote:
> "Open" was certainly not a work heard in the Unix lab,
> where our lawyers made sure we knew it was a "trade secret".
> John Lions was brought into the lab both because we admired
> his work and because the lawyers wanted to reel that work
> back in-house.

That matches my recollection:  AT&T treated the UNIX sources as a
trade secret.  When I worked on DEC's port of the VAX/VMS linker to
Ultrix, our team was very careful to work from the a.out specification
only, and to avoid any contact with the sources to ld.  We wanted to
avoid any chance of AT&T claiming that our VMS linker port in any way
used their proprietary technology.

AT&T made the sources available pretty widely in academia, for use as
a teaching tool, and some of the universities involved seemed to play
pretty fast and loose with the NDA.  A lot of CS students I talked to
were under the impression that the UNIX sources were freely open and
hackable at their college.  Because of this I always wondered whether,
if push came to shove, AT&T would be able to legally enforce its trade
secret claims.  I don't think the issue was ever actually litigated.

-Paul W.


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