A California court has ordered Oracle to continue support for the Intel Itanium chips used by Hewlett-Packard in a number of its servers.
Last year, Oracle announced it would no longer develop its market-leading database server for the 64-bit Intel Itanium processor, which HP co-developed with Intel in the 1990s, until Intel took over all Itanium development from 2004.
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HP, which competes with Oracle in the hardware market but shares many customers, filed a lawsuit against Oracle in June 2011, maintaining that the database maker was contractually bound to continue supporting Itanium.
"This case causes the court to revisit the centuries-old issues of whether a contract exists, and if so, what does it mean," Judge James Kleinberg wrote in his decision, according to US reports.
HP sued its former CEO Mark Hurd after he took a job as co-president of Oracle in September 2010, arguing he held trade secrets.
Oracle and HP reached a settlement agreement, but have since disagreed over whether some parts of the agreement amounted to a binding contract over continued Itanium support.
In his decision, Judge Kleinberg said that for the past 30 years Oracle and HP had dealt on an informal basis, supporting mutual customers mostly without any written contract.
Therefore, he concluded, HP had "every reason to believe" the settlement agreement "was consistent with business as usual".
Kleinberg ruled that Oracle's statements amounted to a valid contract and the company is required to continue porting its products to HP's Itanium servers until HP stops selling Itanium-based servers and at no cost to HP.
"Last March, Oracle made an engineering decision to stop future software development on the Itanium chip," Oracle said in a statement.
"We made the decision as we became convinced that Itanium was approaching its end of life and we explained our rationale to customers. Nothing in the court's preliminary opinion changes that fact," it said.
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Oracle plans to appeal the judge's ruling. It has 15 days to do so, according to the ruling.
In May, market data for global server shipments from Gartner showed that HP sales had suffered since Oracle's decision to drop support for Itanium chips.
Gartner reported that while X86 servers forged ahead and grew 1.7% in units in the first quarter of 2012 and 5.6% in revenue, RISC/Itanium Unix servers declined 5% in shipments and dropped 15.2% in vendor revenue compared with the same quarter last year.
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