December 10, 2009 2:47 am

Oracle summons support for EU hearing

A number of big corporate and government technology users are set to appear at a hearing in Brussels starting on Thursday to back Oracle’s claim that its planned acquisition of Sun Microsystems would not harm competition in the database software market.

The move comes after Neelie Kroes, the European Union’s competition commissioner, said on Wednesday that she was “optimistic” that a “satisfactory outcome” to the dispute could be reached. Her comments raised hopes on Wall Street that the stand-off with regulators that has prevented Oracle from completing the Sun deal could be resolved.

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According to a person familiar with the schedule for the hearing, users that would lend their support to Oracle’s case include Ericsson, Vodafone, Sabre and BBVA, as well as the UK Atomic Weapons Agency and National Health Service.

The line-up of prominent customers is an attempt to counter fears over the future of MySQL, an open source software company that was bought by Sun last year and which Brussels has argued is a significant rival to Oracle’s own core database software business.

Critics say that acquiring MySQL would leave Oracle in a position to stifle the business. “The most common competitor [to MySQL] is Oracle and usually it is only Oracle,” Monty Widenius, the founder of the open source company and a leading critic of the deal, told reporters in Brussels. Mr Widenius left MySQL after selling out to Sun early last year for $1bn.

Oracle claims that the two companies serve different parts of the database market and are not seen by customers as substitutes, a view that has been backed by many in the tech world.

The tech clients appearing at the hearing have pointed to an effort by Oracle to draw attention to the scarcity of customers that have been prepared to speak out against the deal. The Commission’s formal statement of objections contains the names of only five technology corporate users that believe MySQL is a serious rival to Oracle, according to one person who has seen the document.

Mr Widenius is set to appear at the Brussels hearing to back the Commission’s case, along with Oracle rivals SAP and Microsoft. However, the head of software at another big rival, IBM, has said that he does not believe the deal causes serious concerns.

Oracle has also called two prominent figures from the open source world to support its arguments: Marten Mickos, a former chief executive officer of MySQL, and Eben Moglen, a professor at Columbia Law School and founder of the Software Freedom Law Center.

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