John Paczkowski

Recent Posts by John Paczkowski

EU Objects to Oracle-Sun Deal

The European Commission today issued a so-called Statement of Objections over Oracle’s (ORCL) proposed acquisition of Sun Microsystems (JAVA). Disclosed in a regulatory filing by Sun, the document gives formal voice to the EC’s concerns over the fate of Sun’s open-source MySQL database. From Sun’s filing:

On November 9, 2009, the European Commission issued a statement of objections relating to the acquisition of Sun by Oracle Corporation. The Statement of Objections sets out the Commission’s preliminary assessment regarding, and is limited to, the combination of Sun’s open source MySQL database product with Oracle’s enterprise database products and its potential negative effects on competition in the market for database products. The issuing of a Statement of Objections allows addressees to present arguments in response to the Commission’s preliminary assessment of the competitive effects of a notified transaction. A Statement of Objections is a preparatory document that does not prejudge the European Commission’s final decision. Any final decision by the European Commission is subject to appeal to the European Court of First Instance.

Indignant that the EC would dare to bring the $7 billion deal into question, Oracle vowed to take it to the mat in a harshly worded rebuttal:

Oracle’s acquisition of Sun is essential for competition in the high end server market, for revitalizing Sparc and Solaris and for strengthening the Java development platform. The transaction does not threaten to reduce competition in the slightest, including in the database market. The Commission’s Statement of Objections reveals a profound misunderstanding of both database competition and open source dynamics. It is well understood by those knowledgeable about open source software that because MySQL is open source, it cannot be controlled by anyone. That is the whole point of open source.

The database market is intensely competitive with at least eight strong players, including IBM, Microsoft, Sybase and three distinct open source vendors. Oracle and MySQL are very different database products. There is no basis in European law for objecting to a merger of two among eight firms selling differentiated products. Mergers like this occur regularly and have not been prohibited by United States or European regulators in decades.

The U.S. Department of Justice carefully reviewed the proposed acquisition during the normal Hart-Scott-Rodino review and considered it again when the European Commission initiated a second phase review. On both occasions the Justice Department came to the conclusion that there is nothing anticompetitive about the deal, including specifically Oracle’s acquisition of the MySQL database product. The U.S. Department of Justice approved the acquisition without conditions and terminated the waiting period under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act on August 20, 2009.

Sun’s customers universally support this merger and do not benefit from the continued uncertainty and delay. Oracle plans to vigorously oppose the Commission’s Statement of Objections as the evidence against the Commission’s position is overwhelming. Given the lack of any credible theory or evidence of competitive harm, we are confident we will ultimately obtain unconditional clearance of the transaction.

And Oracle will evidently pursue its case with help from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division, which also issued a statement on the EC’s move today:

After conducting a careful investigation of the proposed transaction between Oracle and Sun, the Department’s Antitrust Division concluded that the merger is unlikely to be anticompetitive. This conclusion was based on the particular facts of the transaction and the Division’s prior investigations in the relevant industries. The investigation included gathering statements from a variety of industry participants and a review of the parties’ internal business documents. At this point in its process, it appears that the EC holds a different view. We remain hopeful that the parties and the EC will reach a speedy resolution that benefits consumers in the Commission’s jurisdiction.

Several factors led the Division to conclude that the proposed transaction is unlikely to be anticompetitive. There are many open-source and proprietary database competitors. The Division concluded, based on the specific facts at issue in the transaction, that consumer harm is unlikely because customers would continue to have choices from a variety of well established and widely accepted database products. The Department also concluded that there is a large community of developers and users of Sun’s open source database with significant expertise in maintaining and improving the software, and who could support a derivative version of it.

The Department and the European Commission have a strong and positive relationship on competition policy matters. The two competition authorities have enjoyed close and cooperative relations. The Antitrust Division will continue to work constructively with the EC and competition authorities in other jurisdictions to preserve sound antitrust enforcement policies that benefit consumers around the world.


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