Larry Ellison, Oracle and litigation: A business that's not a business

If only lawyers could make money rather than costing money

Analysis Oracle's chalked up yet another stunning courtroom loss.

In May, the database giant failed in its bid to have Google stump up $9bn on Android and stake a sweeping claim over APIs and how they're broadly used.

And now, this week, Oracle was ordered to pay Hewlett-Packard Enterprise (HPE) $3bn for reneging on a commitment to put its software on HPE's Itanic servers.

That figure is the size of Oracle's entire cloud business during a single quarter. It might seem as though Oracle is in court quite a lot, but to be fair it's probably not – most likely less than the headlines suggest, and less than those involved in the smartphone sector in recent years.

There's a lot of litigation in the field of technology. It attracts cases like a road kill does flies because there's so much money involved – both present and future potential. At one point in smart phones, it resembled the final scene of Reservoir Dogs, with everybody firing at everybody else.

And yes, Oracle is right to both defend its trademarks and copyrights and to protect its business by law, should it feel the need.

It's won cases against Rimini Street for $50m and SAP for $1.3bn over TomorrowNow, which it was found illegally downloaded its code.

It's just that Oracle's cases are bigger and make greater claims to unfairness. Oracle is not a retiring company, so its legal disputes are that much bigger.

Case in point: the firm's response to an employee claiming malpractice – probably falsely – in its cloud business accounting has been, guess what? Threatening to throw the legal juggernaut at the individual.

Now, Oracle isn't letting the HPE case go, and as you would expect, has vowed to appeal.

"It is very clear that any contractual obligations were reciprocal and HP breached its own obligations. Now that both trials have concluded, we intend to appeal both today's ruling and the prior ruling from Judge Kleinberg," executive vice president and general counsel Dorian Daley said in a statement.

The Google case, a different type of suit, remember, seems dead – for now at least.

But based on its past actions, I don't think we should rule out further big-brand-type litigation from the world's number-one maker of databases.

My only question is this: shouldn't Oracle have different priorities at this time?

Litigation is part of doing business, but aside from God Larry Ellison is possibly the only person at Oracle who knows the true size of Oracle's total legal bill over these last years.

Probably Oracle can comfortably swallow that bill, but with the firm's vast, cash-cow on-prem software business falling: for how long?

HPE was a different case – Oracle was in defense – and yet it's determined to fight on, having lost. Google/Android case was a big-roll-o-the-dice that looked and sounded like SCO's attempt to hit the jackpot on Linux by taking on IBM.

At this point, it would seem that Oracle's time would be better served devising a sustainable way out of the place where its business now resides instead. ®

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