When Lockheed Sued SCO over Skunkware


The term ‘Skunk Works’ originated during World War II when the P-80 Shooting Star was designed by Lockheed’s Advanced Development Projects Division in Burbank, California. A closely guarded incubator was set up in a circus tent next to a plastics factory in Burbank. The strong smells that wafted into the tent made the Lockheed R&D workers think of the foul-smelling ‘Skonk Works’ factory in Al Capp’s Li’l Abner comic strip.

Skunk Works history started with the P-38 Lightning in 1939 and the P-80 Shooting Star in 1943. Skunk Works engineers subsequently developed the U-2, SR-71 Blackbird, F-117 Nighthawk, F-22 Raptor, and F-35 Lightning II, the latter being used in the air forces of several countries.

In the early 90’s SCO began releasing ‘SCO Skunkware’, a collection of open source software ported and packaged for installation and use on SCO platforms.

Lockheed Suits

In the mid-90s Lockheed began suing anyone and everyone who used the term ‘skunk’ in a product. They were successful and many products, most unrelated in any fashion to aircraft or anything produced by Lockheed, were forced to change their product names. Lockheed even sued Network Solutions in an attempt to make it illegal for Internet Domain registrars to sell domain names with the term ‘skunk’ in them. They lost that suit so now we have!

That’s trademark law protecting your rights.

Lockheed Sues SCO

During this flood of ‘skunk’ suits, Lockheed sued SCO claiming that use of the term ‘SCO Skunkware’ was an infringement on their ‘Skunk Works’ trademark. SCO and Lockheed settled out of court with the agreement that SCO could continue to use ‘SCO Skunkware’ but only if every mention of ‘SCO Skunkware’ was accompanied by the statement:

The Santa Cruz Operation, Inc. and SCO Skunkware are not related to, affiliated with or licensed by the famous Lockheed Martin Skunk Works (R), the creator of the F-117 Stealth Fighter, SR-71, U-2, Venturestar(tm), Darkstar(tm), and other pioneering air and spacecraft.

SCO Skunkware Website

As the maintainer of the SCO Skunkware website, I was told to add the above statement everywhere ‘SCO Skunkware’ was referenced. I was delighted to do so. However, there were hundreds if not thousands of SCO Skunkware web pages and almost all of them included the offensive term. I worked hard and got the job done.

Hoist on their own Petard

I went about my business, not thinking much about it. Then one day I happened to search for “SR-71” in one of the many Internet search engines we had back then. What I got as the first few dozen hits returned from my search were all SCO Skunkware web pages. Haha! I searched for Stealth Fighter and got the same results, all SCO Skunkware links. Anyone looking for information on the Internet about any of the Lockheed products mentioned in our forced disclaimer was going to learn a lot about SCO Skunkware and nothing about Lockheed.

Lockheed was hoist on its own petard. Their insistence on ‘owning’ the word ‘skunk’ had resulted in burying any mention of their famous works under pages and pages of SCO Skunkware links.

Yes, Mary, there is justice in this world.

This post is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by the author.