Oracle ordered to provide discount details

A judge has told Oracle that it must provide information about discounts it has provided to customers, which could serve as...

A judge has told Oracle that it must provide information about discounts it has provided to customers, which could serve as evidence in the US Department of Justice's suit to block Oracle's takeover of PeopleSoft.

The judge also set a trial date of 7 June for the case and set aside two weeks for each side to present its case. The parties had both been seeking a trial date of 21 June.

The DOJ charged earlier this week that Oracle had withheld "discount forms" during the agency's investigation into the antitrust implications of the merger. The forms would be among the most direct evidence that the presence of PeopleSoft in the enterprise applications market directly affects the prices and features of Oracle's software, according to the DOJ.

Judge Vaughn Walker agreed with the DOJ's assertion that the documents could be material to the case.

"If I understand the nature of those forms correctly, it would seem to me that those forms would likely lead to the discovery of admissible evidence," he said.

Oracle and the DOJ were ordered to solve the problem of how many forms Oracle should provide and when it should provide them.

Oracle counsel Daniel Wall argued in court that the DOJ's request for discount forms is too broad because it would include information about Oracle's customers in the midmarket which, he claimed is not relevant to this case.

DOJ trial attorney Claude Scott said information about the midmarket is also critical, because it helps to show how competition works across different markets.

Judge Walker also instructed the DOJ for its part to provide Oracle with answers to a list of questions the software company has asked. By asking these questions, or "interrogatories" in legalese, Oracle hopes to get details of the DOJ's case that are not disclosed in the government's complaint. The DOJ had proposed limits to the number of questions Oracle can ask.

The judge decided that the DOJ should tell Oracle which witnesses it intends to call for trial so that Oracle can prepare its defence. The DOJ had offered to provide a list or organisations that may have information it could use at trial, but had declined to name specific witnesses it may call or even the organisations they could come from.

Oracle and the DOJ were also at odds over the confidentiality of information provided to the DOJ by 33 third parties, including Oracle competitors and customers. The DOJ wanted Oracle's in-house lawyers barred from accessing that information, but the judge decided instead that those third parties must appeal to the court if they want specific information to be kept confidential.

The DOJ filed a lawsuit last month to block Oracle's hostile takeover bid for rival PeopleSoft. Combining the two companies would stifle competition in the enterprise software market, according to the DOJ. The DOJ sees Oracle, PeopleSoft and SAP as the only companies that sell enterprise applications meeting the needs of large organisations.

Oracle has countered that customers can turn to several suppliers for their software, and argues that the DOJ has failed to define a relevant "high end" market.

A follow-up case management telephone conference was scheduled for 19 March 19, and a third pretrial conference on 16 April.

"This transaction has been hanging over this market for months and we want to see it resolved quickly," said Bruce McDonald, deputy assistant attorney general in the DOJ's antitrust division. "The faster the trial schedule, the better it is for the antitrust division."

Oracle launched its hostile bid for PeopleSoft last June. The all-cash offer has been raised twice and is now valued at $9.4bn.

Joris Evers writes for IDG News Service

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