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Oracle Appeal Delays HP Itanium Trial

As Hewlett-Packard prepares for the second phase of a trial in which it will seek hundreds of millions of dollars in damages, Oracle appeals an earlier ruling.
The second phase of the legal battle between Hewlett-Packard and Oracle over software support for HP's Itanium-chip-based servers was to begin this week, but Oracle filed an appeal Monday that will delay the trial until next week.

Oracle's appeal, which must now be considered by an appellate judge, questions an earlier decision by a California state judge to deny a motion to throw out HP's case on the grounds that it violates Oracle's free speech rights. The judge ruled that Oracle did not file that motion in a timely manner.

The legal battle between the two tech giants stems from Oracle's unilateral decision in March 2011 to drop software support for HP's Itanium-based servers. That move would have ended the release of new Itanium-compatible versions of the latest releases of Oracle Database and applications such as E-Business Suite and PeopleSoft.

Had that decision stuck, it would have choked off future sales of HP's servers and stranded joint HP-Oracle customers already running apps on Itanium servers. Oracle claimed that the Itanium chip, produced by Intel and used almost exclusively by HP, was all but dead, citing HP documents that show a throttled-down version of the chip was released to create the illusion of a longer roadmap.

[ Want more on Oracle's competition to HP's high-end servers? Read Oracle Sparc T5 Can't Make Sun Rise. ]

HP sued Oracle in June 2011 over its discontinuation of software support, and in a decision handed down last August, Judge James Kleinberg of the Superior Court of California, County of Santa Clara, backed HP's claims that a September 20, 2010, contract with Oracle explicitly said that mutual product support must continue as it had in the past.

Oracle complied with that ruling in September by porting the latest versions of its software to run on Itanium servers. Those servers compete with Oracle's own Sparc servers, which were gained through the 2010 acquisition of Sun Microsystems.

"As this case has progressed, it has become increasingly clear that Oracle breached its contractual commitment to HP and ignored its repeated promises of support to our shared customers for the purpose of driving hardware sales from Itanium to Sun servers," said HP in a statement issued Monday. "HP is disappointed that Oracle has elected to delay the trial ... Nevertheless, we are confident that the Court of Appeal will find Oracle's [free-speech] motion to be baseless and that it will affirm the trial judge's ruling that the motion is untimely."

Oracle declined comment on Monday's appeal. Unless that appeal is successful, the trial will resume April 15.

HP will seek $500 million in damages in the second phase of the trial, Bloomberg reported Monday, citing sources close to the company. HP suffered double-digit declines in Itanium sales in the wake of Oracle's end-of-support announcement. Long-term partners before the Sun acquisition, HP and Oracle have more than 140,000 joint customers. It's unknown how many of those customers are running recent generations of Itanium-based servers.