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HPE ordered to pay Oracle $30m for Solaris IP infringement

Years long case closes after three-week jury trial, HPE considering next step

Hewlett Packard Enterprise must pay Oracle $30 million for copyright infringement after a jury found it guilty of providing customers with Solaris software updates without Big Red's permission.

The decision, which HPE may contest, is the culmination of a three-week trial in Oakland, California. However, the case was first raised years back when Oracle claimed HPE had offered illegal updates under a scheme devised by software support provider Terix, which settled its case in 2015 for almost $58 million.

In proceedings at the start of this week, Oracle’s lawyer, Christopher Yeates of Latham & Watkins LLP, pressed the eight-person jury to award his client $72 million for HPE using software not covered by a support contract, and for pinching clients, including Comcast.

“If you award anything less, it would be letting HPE off the hook for knowingly infringing [Oracle’s] IP,” Yates said, according to legal news site Law 360.

He highlighted testimony from HPE staff that sensed something was not right when using Terix services, alleging HPE management ignored this.

Yates also claimed HPE worked “arm in arm” with Terix to pinch Oracle’s IP. And Oracle’s legal rep leaned on recounted testimony from Oracle computer science expert Christian Hicks, who pored over 35 HPE customers and found thousands of allegedly infringing patches.

Acting on behalf of HPE, Jeffrey Todd Thomas of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP said Oracle was inflating the size of the problem, admitting “a few HPE people made mistakes”, adding, according to Law360: “But now Oracle is trying to take advantage of Terix’s conduct and confusion [Oracle] created to get huge damages.”

Following one full day of debate, the jury found HPE had breached copyright laws and priced that at $30 million. It also awarded $24 million [PDF] in damages against HPE for intentionally interfering with Oracle's customers, but only the higher damages will apply, attorneys reportedly said during closing remarks.

HPE, the jury also decided, will not be on the hook for punitive damages.

Oracle has spent years waging legal war against anyone it suspects of stealing copyrighted code. It first unleashed lawyers against Terix in 2013, and fired a sueball at HPE in 2016 over the Terix partnership.

Former Terix boss Bernd Appleby was sentenced to two years in 2018 for wire fraud, specifically operating as a Solaris support shop without buying and maintaining a license from Oracle. The lawsuit against HPE was tossed in 2019, but revived in 2021.

The latest payout, if it is not altered on appeal, is just a fraction of the $3 billion Oracle was told to pay to HPE in damages for violating a decades-old contract agreement, when it refused to add Itanium support to its database wares. The US Supreme Court refused to overturn that decision last month.

HPE told us: "HPE disagrees with the verdict and is evaluating its options." ®

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