Oracle winds up legal machine, lobs copyright lawsuit at HPE

The database giant says HPE was involved in a scheme that infringed Oracle's copyright

ellison openworld 2015

Oracle's Larry Ellison at OpenWorld in San Francisco on Oct. 25, 2015

Credit: Oracle

Oracle has filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Hewlett Packard Enterprise, claiming it was part of an illegal scheme to sell Solaris support services to Oracle customers.

The case involves an area of the tech industry known as third-party maintenance and support, in which customers buy support services from a third party for less than they would normally pay their primary vendor.

Oracle has brought several lawsuits against such providers, and last June it won a judgment against a third-party vendor called Terix that required the smaller firm to pay Oracle $58 million.

In its lawsuit Tuesday, Oracle claims that HPE partnered with Terix to sell Solaris support services to joint Oracle and HPE customers, and that HPE did so despite knowing that Terix's business was illegal.

Oracle says it learned of the alleged conduct while litigating its case against Terix.

HPE -- known then as simply HP -- “sold support services to Oracle customers that included software support by Terix despite knowing that Terix’s software support included Solaris Updates that Terix had no lawful right to provide,” Oracle says in its complaint.

A spokesman for HPE said the company doesn't comment on ongoing legal cases.

Oracle wants a jury trial to determine monetary damages. Its lawsuit, filed in the federal District Court in Northern California, accuses HP of copyright infringement, intentional interference with contracts and unfair competition.

The case is reminiscent of one Oracle brought several years ago against another rival, SAP, over the German company's dealings with third-party provider TomorrowNow.

In that case, SAP had purchased TomorrowNow and later admitted that the company had illegally downloaded vast amounts of Oracle support materials. After a long legal fight, SAP paid Oracle about $360 million.

The link between HPE and Terix is less direct. Oracle describes Terix as a "partner" and a "contractor" to HP. If the case makes it to trial, the jury will have to decide whether HPE was aware that Terix acted illegally, and if so to what extent HPE might be liable.

Oracle contends HPE knew full well what Terix was up to.

It says HP's goal was to offer multivendor support to customers with mixed HP and Sun Solaris environments. HP enlisted Terix for the software portion, Oracle says, including providing updates for Oracle’s Solaris OS.

Oracle claims HP must have known Terix was acting illegally because HP has the same type of license and support policies for HP-UX.  It says HP provided the services “despite HP employees raising concerns about the legality of Terix’s conduct to HP’s legal department.”

There’s no love lost between Oracle and HPE, and it’s hard not to picture Oracle's chairman, Larry Ellison, rubbing his hands together with glee when his lawyers told him HPE might be implicated in Terix’s misdeeds.

Once close partners, Oracle and HPE became rivals when Oracle bought Sun six years ago, and the relationship has devolved ever since.

When Mark Hurd was forced to resign as HP's CEO, Ellison called it “the worst personnel decision since the idiots on the Apple board fired Steve Jobs.” He was even more merciless in mocking Hurd’s replacement, Leo Apotheker.

HP and Oracle are still tangled in a lawsuit over Oracle’s decision to stop developing software for Itanium, a chip HP depends on for some of its servers. Ellison called Itanium a dying platform, and HP sued his company for breach of contract.

That case is ongoing, and the companies now have another battle to litigate as well.