Oracle must continue to make its software available to run on Intel’s Itanium range of processors after losing a legal battle with Hewlett-Packard.
HP brought a case against Oracle after it announced in March last year that it would no longer support the Itanium chips, which HP uses in its "mission critical" range of servers. This would mean that those servers could no longer be used to run Oracle’s ubiquitous database and application software – which between 80% to 90% of them were used for.
A California court ruled yesterday that this was contrary to an agreement signed by Oracle in September 2010, in light of its acquisition of Sun Microsystems and its appointment of former HP CEO Mark Hurd, to continue to support Itanium as it had done in the past.
"The Itanium decision was both inconsitent with the parties’ course of dealing and unprecendented in Oracle’s history", the ruling says.
Oracle had argued that the agreement was too vague to oblige it do anything. However, the court ruled that the "clear and explicit" meaning of the agreement was that HP and Oracle would continue to collaborate as they had before. It pointed out that in September 2010, Oracle and HP issued a joint press release confirming continued support for HP’s servers.
"Oracle’s argument does not square with the law and the facts", the court ruled.
"The court finds in favor of HP and against Oracle," it said. "The … agreement entered into by HP and Oracle on September 20, 2010, requires Oracle to continue to offer its product suite on HP’s Itanium-based server platforms."
"Oracle’s obligation to continue to offer its product suite on HP’s Itanium-based server platforms lasts until such time as HP discontinues the sale of its Itanium-based servers."
The Financial Times reports that HP could now seek damages worth "billions of dollars" from Oracle.
Oracle plans to appeal the ruling. "“HP’s argument turns the concept of Silicon Valley ‘partnerships’ upside down. We plan to appeal the Court’s ruling while fully litigating our cross claims that HP misled both its partners and customers.”
The ruling is of course a victory for HP, but the trial may nevertheless have damaged the prospects its HP-UX server range. Documents released by Oracle in May suggested that HP knew Intel planned to discontinue the Itanium processors. Customers using Oracle on HP-UX may therefore think twice about making strategic investments in the platform.
For Oracle, it is the second high profile legal loss this year. In May, its claim that Google infringed its copyright by using Java APIs in the Android operating systems was rejected.