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HP prods EU antitrust authorities against Oracle

Company logo shown at headquarters for Oracle Corp shown in Redwood City
Company logo shown at headquarters for Oracle Corp shown in Redwood City

By Dan Levine

SAN JOSE, California (Reuters) - Hewlett-Packard is trying to enlist European antitrust authorities to investigate whether Oracle improperly leveraged its strength in software to freeze HP out of certain parts of the hardware market, attorneys for both companies said in court.

The disclosure came on Tuesday in a state court hearing in San Jose, California, the latest in a bitter dispute between the companies over Oracle's decision to cease supporting Intel Corp's Itanium microprocessor.

"They are going literally around the world to every antitrust jurisdiction, trying to say we're trying to put them out of business," Oracle attorney Daniel Wall said of HP.

HP attorney Robert Cooper said the European issues are separate from its U.S. lawsuit.

"They turn on whether Oracle is abusing its position of power on software to drive us out of the hardware business," Cooper said.

The status of any potential European inquiry is unclear.

"HP is pursuing all avenues to enforce Oracle's commitments to HP and our shared customers," HP spokesman Michael Thacker said on Tuesday.

An Oracle spokeswoman declined to comment.

Oracle decided in March to discontinue its support for Itanium, a heavy-duty computing microprocessor, saying Intel made it clear the chip was nearing the end of its life and the company's focus was on its x86 microprocessor.

HP has dubbed Oracle's decision "anti-customer" behavior, saying in court papers that it was part of a bid to force HP customers to purchase servers from Sun Microsystems, which had been bought by Oracle.

HP sued Oracle in a California state court in June.

Oracle, meanwhile, has accused HP of fraud on the market, saying the only reason Intel continues to invest in Itanium is because HP secretly contracted with Intel to do so.

An Intel spokesman declined to comment on the case.

The litigation has been part of a deteriorating relationship between the two companies. Also on Tuesday, the Delaware Supreme Court ruled that HP did not have to turn over an internal report that led to the departure of former chief executive Mark Hurd last year.

Hurd joined Oracle as president soon after.

In court on Tuesday, Santa Clara Superior Court Judge James Kleinberg pressed each side to enter settlement discussions.

Kleinberg noted the recent management changes at HP, with Meg Whitman taking over as chief executive after former CEO Leo Apotheker's exit. Apotheker had a toxic relationship with Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, and it was under Apotheker's leadership that HP sued Oracle over the Itanium decision.

"My global question is, what does each side want at the end of the day out of this case?" Kleinberg asked.

But attorneys for both sides expressed pessimism about settlement. Oracle attorney Wall said Oracle had strong counterclaims against HP for alleged fraud on the market surrounding Itanium.

"We are going to take that case to trial," Wall said.

HP's Cooper reiterated that support for Itanium is "mission critical" to the company.

Itanium is a "very important product to HP," Cooper said.

Kleinberg set a trial date of April 2, 2012, but still ordered each side to exchange names of potential settlement mediators.

The case in the Superior Court of the State of California, County of Santa Clara is Hewlett-Packard Company v. Oracle Corporation, No. 11-CV-203163.

(Reporting by Dan Levine; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)

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