Embattled Hewlett-Packard scored a victory over Oracle Aug. 1 when a California judge ruled that the software company must continue supporting Intel's Itanium processor platform as long as HP continues to sell Itanium-based systems.
In his ruling, Judge James P. Kleinberg of the Santa Clara County Superior Court agreed with HP executives who had argued that Oracle was contractually bound to continue support Itanium as part of a larger settlement between the two in the 2010 legal decision over Oracle's hiring of former HP CEO Mark Hurd. He ordered Oracle to not only continue support for HP's Itanium-based platforms, but also to do so without charge to HP.
The case now moves into the penalty phase before a jury, where HP reportedly is seeking as much as $4 billion in damages. HP executives have placed much of the blame for plummeting sales of their high-end Integrity and NonStop systems on Oracle's decision last year to end development of its software for the Itanium platform.
The Itanium dispute represents the second significant court loss for Oracle in three months, following a jury decision in May that Google had not infringed on Oracle's Java patents.
HP officials applauded Kleinberg's ruling, saying in a statement that the ruling "is a tremendous win for HP and its customers. The Superior Court of the State of California, Santa Clara County, has confirmed the existence of a contract between HP and Oracle that requires Oracle to port its software products to HP's Itanium-based servers. We expect Oracle to comply with its contractual obligation as ordered by the Court."
Oracle officials said in a statement that they will appeal the ruling, arguing that the decision to no longer port its software to the Itanium platform was made because they believe Intel is intent on ending development of Itanium, and that HP had misled Oracle and the companies' 140,000 or so joint customers. They also argued that the language in the settlement over Hurd did not constitute a contractual agreement.
"We know that Oracle did not give up its fundamental right to make platform engineering decisions in the 27 words HP cites from the settlement of an unrelated employment agreement," Oracle officials said. HP's argument turns the concept of Silicon Valley partnerships upside down.
The court case was the latest step in a disintegrating relationship between two companies that at one time were close partners. That began to unravel in 2010, when Oracle bought Sun Microsystems. In the deal, Oracle also inherited Sun's SPARC/Solaris hardware business, which competed directly with HP's Itanium-based Integrity systems.
The hiring of Hurd further strained the relationship, as did HP's decision later to replace him with Leo Apotheker, the former CEO of Oracle software rival SAP.
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