Short bio: Computer Scientist, FOSS supporter (read more)
Tux Machines (TM)-specific
Two things happened to diffuse this hypothetical chain of events: Novell itself, which surely was already planning to expand its business with the acquisitions of Ximian and SUSE Linux, decided to take the high road and publicly challenge SCO's claims instead of going along with SCO's plan. (Again, it's my speculation that they were even invited, but given the potentially billions of dollars at stake, I have trouble believing that SCO wouldn't privately try to hedge their bets just in case Novell had a valid claim.)
The next thing that ruined SCO's plans? Groklaw.
Had things stayed in the boardrooms and courthouses, I do believe that the outcome of all of these cases might have turned out differently. Facts would have stayed buried. Companies might have been tempted to settle. The sheer arrogance of SCO might have been hidden behind friendly sounding press releases.
That, I'm sure, is the way SCO wanted it to happen. And again, looking at the Linux community in 2003, that's what very likely could have happened. Remember, there was no central Linux organization to respond to this sort of thing. SCO would have quietly maneuvered its way through all of these lawsuits, even the claims made by Novell, and they may have had a better chance.