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EC Objects to Oracle-Sun; Oracle Vows To Fight

The European Commission Monday served Oracle and Sun with a statement of objections

The European Commission Monday served Oracle and Sun with a statement of objections (SO) that takes exception to their $7.4 billion combination.

Sun immediately told the SEC that "The Statement of Objections sets out the Commission's preliminary assessment regarding, and is limited to, the combination of Sun's open source MySQL database product with Oracle's enterprise database products and its potential negative effects on competition in the market for database products."

Oracle then issued a statement saying that it's going to fight the EC and then the Justice Department waded in with its own statement siding with Oracle and saying the proposed merger no threat to competition.

The situation, predictable all around, promises to get testy.

Oracle's sharply worded statement reads:

"Oracle's acquisition of Sun is essential for competition in the high-end server market, for revitalizing Sparc and Solaris and for strengthening the Java development platform. The transaction does not threaten to reduce competition in the slightest, including in the database market. The Commission's Statement of Objections reveals a profound misunderstanding of both database competition and open source dynamics. It is well understood by those knowledgeable about open source software that because MySQL is open source, it cannot be controlled by anyone. That is the whole point of open source.

"The database market is intensely competitive with at least eight strong players, including IBM, Microsoft, Sybase and three distinct open source vendors. Oracle and MySQL are very different database products. There is no basis in European law for objecting to a merger of two among eight firms selling differentiated products. Mergers like this occur regularly and have not been prohibited by United States or European regulators in decades.

"The US Department of Justice carefully reviewed the proposed acquisition during the normal Hart-Scott-Rodino review and considered it again when the European Commission initiated a second phase review. On both occasions the Justice Department came to the conclusion that there is nothing anticompetitive about the deal, including specifically Oracle's acquisition of the MySQL database product. The US Department of Justice approved the acquisition without conditions and terminated the waiting period under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act on August 20, 2009.

"Sun's customers universally support this merger and do not benefit from the continued uncertainty and delay. Oracle plans to vigorously oppose the Commission's Statement of Objections as the evidence against the Commission's position is overwhelming. Given the lack of any credible theory or evidence of competitive harm, we are confident we will ultimately obtain unconditional clearance of the transaction."

Deputy Assistant Attorney General Molly Boast of the DOJ's Antitrust Division issued a slightly more diplomatic statement:

"After conducting a careful investigation of the proposed transaction between Oracle and Sun, the Department's Antitrust Division concluded that the merger is unlikely to be anticompetitive. This conclusion was based on the particular facts of the transaction and the Division's prior investigations in the relevant industries. The investigation included gathering statements from a variety of industry participants and a review of the parties' internal business documents. At this point in its process, it appears that the EC holds a different view. We remain hopeful that the parties and the EC will reach a speedy resolution that benefits consumers in the Commission's jurisdiction.

"Several factors led the Division to conclude that the proposed transaction is unlikely to be anticompetitive. There are many open-source and proprietary database competitors. The Division concluded, based on the specific facts at issue in the transaction, that consumer harm is unlikely because customers would continue to have choices from a variety of well established and widely accepted database products. The Department also concluded that there is a large community of developers and users of Sun's open source database with significant expertise in maintaining and improving the software, and who could support a derivative version of it.

"The Department and the European Commission have a strong and positive relationship on competition policy matters. The two competition authorities have enjoyed close and cooperative relations. The Antitrust Division will continue to work constructively with the EC and competition authorities in other jurisdictions to preserve sound antitrust enforcement policies that benefit consumers around the world."

Sun's disclosure to the SEC said the "The issuing of a Statement of Objections allows addressees to present arguments in response to the Commission's preliminary assessment of the competitive effects of a notified transaction. A Statement of Objections is a preparatory document that does not prejudge the European Commission's final decision. Any final decision by the European Commission is subject to appeal to the European Court of First Instance."

The EC's deadline for a decision is mid-January. Meanwhile Sun is slowly bleeding to death. Its revenues were down 25% in the September quarter and it lost $120 million, according to an SEC filing made last Friday.

More Stories By Maureen O'Gara

Maureen O'Gara the most read technology reporter for the past 20 years, is the Cloud Computing and Virtualization News Desk editor of SYS-CON Media. She is the publisher of famous "Billygrams" and the editor-in-chief of "Client/Server News" for more than a decade. One of the most respected technology reporters in the business, Maureen can be reached by email at maureen(at)sys-con.com or paperboy(at)g2news.com, and by phone at 516 759-7025. Twitter: @MaureenOGara

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