Oracle loses appeal against $3bn payment to HPE over withdrawal of Itanium support

Could one of the longest and dirtiest cases in tech history finally be over?


The Supreme Court of California has thrown out Oracle's appeal against a decision to award $3bn damages to HPE in a case which dates back a decade and relates to Big Red's commitment to develop on Itanium hardware.

On Wednesday, the court denied a review of Oracle's appeal against a summary judgement, apparently without comment or any written dissents.

The decision follows a ruling [PDF] made in the California Court of Appeal that affirmed HPE's $3.14bn win for alleged contract violation, stating that an agreement between the firms had created a legal obligation for Oracle to support software on HPE's Itanium server.

The case hinged on the companies' statements that they had a "longstanding strategic relationship" and a "mutual desire to continue to support their mutual customers." The agreement stated that Oracle, for its part, "will continue to offer its product suite on HP platforms" while HPE "will continue to support Oracle products (including Oracle Enterprise Linux and Oracle VM) on its hardware."

The ruling reads: "We conclude that the second sentence, moreover, does more than declare an aspiration or intent to continue working together, as Oracle claims. It commits the parties to continue the actions specified (Oracle offering its product suite and HP supporting the products)," as it had done previously.

For those with the stamina to take a prolonged and meandering trip down memory lane, the case, which gained a reputation as the dirtiest lawsuit in tech history, began in 2011.

In June 2011, Hewlett Packard, as was, sued Oracle over its refusal to support the Itanium processor with future releases of its database, middleware, and application software.

The complaint, filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court, listed 10 grievances against HP's former industry ally. They included breach of implied contract, promissory estoppel, defamation, intentional interference with prospective economic advantage, and three alleged violations of California's business and professional code. Earlier in that June month, HP had sent a letter to Oracle co-president and chief financial officer Safra Catz asking Oracle to honour its commitments to HP and to Itanium, without elaborating what those contractual commitments were.

Later that month HP filed suit accusing Oracle of breaching contracts and demanding a jury trial in California.

In August 2012, the Santa Clara court's Judge James Kleinberg ruled that Oracle had a contract with HP to port its databases to Itanium, and maintain support for the architecture for as long as HP remained in the Itanium game.

In July 2016, Oracle said it would appeal a decision that required Big Red to make a $3bn payment to HPE. The jury agreed with (by then) HPE's claim for $1.7 billion in lost sales before the case started, plus $1.3 billion in post-trial sales.

So could this latest ruling be the end of the matter? Well, according to an appellate law firm, when a claim comes through a state court, the loser can appeal to a state appellate court, then that decision can be appealed to the highest state court, in this case, Supreme Court of California, which is where the current ruling was made. There is the possibility to appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States, but only in cases where there is a question of federal law at stake.

Oracle certainly has deep enough pockets and seemingly a stomach for prolonged legal battles. It remains to be seen if it has the arguments to back them up.

But Oracle can rest assured the law is not always against it. In a separate case, a US judge denied HPE's motion for a summary judgement in its long-running Solaris operating system support squabble with Oracle. The original lawsuit had accused HPE of selling unauthorised updates to the Oracle software.

HPE is "pleased with the court’s ruling and the outcome in this case," it told The Reg today. We have asked Oracle for comment. ®

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