Tuesday, December 04, 2007

 

12/4 SNR: Patently Absurd Edition

So the next SCO BK hearing is tomorrow, and the one issue of substance on the agenda is the Cattleback patent deal. Although I don't think it's hugely important in the larger scheme of things, it's quickly becoming one of the more bizarre episodes we've seen during the long, sordid SCO saga. Let's recap, shall we?

  1. SCO declares BK, and the filings briefly mention a new subsidiary, Cattleback Intellectual Property Holdings.
  2. SCO files an oddly named motion asking the BK court to approve the Cattleback patent sale, despite providing almost no details, not even the name of the buyer. Most people had forgotten SCO even owned any patents, since they'd never managed to go trolling with them. (Or use them in real live products. That's pretty much a given with SCO.) It wasn't clear what the deal meant, but all that furious handwaving looked awfully suspicious.
  3. Time passed, and other matters occupied the limelight for a while. Once SCO v. Novell was back in business, Novell filed objections to the deal. Ouch!
  4. Another objection was filed by a previously unknown firm calling itself the "363 group", which showed up out of the blue and offered to buy the patent (or patents, plural, as they worded it) for a ~17% premium over what the original super-secret buyer agreed to pay. Ok, technically 363 didn't show up completely out of the blue. Turns out they're a division of Ocean Tomo, the firm that brokered the original patent deal. WTF!? SCO and Cattleback (its zero-asset, zero-employee subsidiary) pretend they're about to sue each other over a deal between Cattleback and Ocean Tomo. And then when the two mortal adversaries propose an amicable settlement and a hearty round of large cash bonuses, who shows up and objects but another arm of Ocean Tomo.
  5. Oh, and the US Trustee filed an objection too. I gather that's never a good sign if you want your deal approved.
  6. So on Monday they finalized the agenda for Wednesday's hearing, and poof, 363's gone again. If they ever hand out an award for briefest cameo in the SCO soap opera, they'll at least be one of the nominees. A little too much public scrutiny, perhaps? Didn't realize they were bidding against their own client? Mindboggling.
  7. But not so mindboggling as the latest bit. Turns out the ultra-mysterious buyer is a client of the same law firm Novell's been employing in all matters SCO. So presumably Novell's lawyers know who the buyer is, although I gather they can't share that info with Novell


At some point, you just have to stop connecting the dots and hum a few bars of "Duelling Banjos".

One of the things you learn watching SCO is to never ascribe to malice or stupidity what you can ascribe to malice and stupidity. I suspect there's more to the recent WTF moments than we know yet. I suspect there's a plan, or at least a scheme, behind at least most of what we're seeing. That tends to be the case with SCO, it's just that it's never a very good plan. Often an intricate plan, vehemently argued (see "methods and concepts", APA hairsplitting, etc.), but always a stupid plan in the end. Strictly "12 Dimensional Chess for Dummies" type stuff. So right now I expect to see SCO scream bloody murder about the potential conflict of interest thing and try to get Novell's lawyers thrown off the case. I also expect this scheme won't work, and (as usual) they'll be dumbfounded that it didn't.

Further, I don't see the court going along with the Cattleback sale. I figured there would be objections from various parties wanting more info about the deal. SCO could satisfy those objections by explaining the deal a bit better, but so far they haven't done so. There's still time, and we may yet see them dump another pile of documents on the court an hour before the hearing. Or the court will give them a deadline to comply and fess up, which they'll do -- sort of -- exactly two minutes before the deadline. Assuming the court's still willing to cut them slack, that is, and that may not be a wise assumption after the York shenanigans.

I actually don't care that much about the Cattleback deal other than for the entertainment value. It's strictly a sideshow, almost entirely unrelated to the issues in the IBM & Novell cases. The very fact that people are arguing over it now means that they're successfully delaying the BK case, avoiding pesky details like forming a creditors committee and submitting a realistic reorg plan. They are, however, showing their true colors very early, so that they're likely to be viewed with a great deal of skepticism once it's finally time to deal with the meat of the BK case. All that trouble, all that lost credibility, all those burned bridges, all over a lousy $500k. Smooth move there, guys.

I think SCO's run into a common pitfall among bankrupt companies. If you declare BK, your fate's in the hands of a court that specializes in people just like you, and a US Trustee, and creditors' attorneys who do the same. And they've seen it all before, every last trick in the book. Even if you are as smart and clever and creative as you think you are, they've still seen it all before.

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