Oracle lawyers win access to secret information

A US federal judge has ruled that Oracle's in-house lawyers will get access to confidential information the US government collected from third parties as part of its antitrust review of Oracle's proposed takeover of rival PeopleSoft.

Without access to the information from organisations, which include competitors, partners and software buyers, Oracle might not be able to properly defend itself in the lawsuit brought against it by the US Department of Justice (DOJ), US District Court Judge Vaughn Walker ruled. The suit seeks to block the acquisition.

Among those who provided the DOJ with information for its antitrust probe are the US Department of Defense (DOD) and Oracle rivals SAP, Microsoft and Lawson Software.

The information includes highly confidential business information, lawyers representing these parties said during a hearing in US District Court for the Northern District of California.

Out of fear that lawyers on Oracle's payroll might share the secret information with others at the company, several of the entities that provided the DOJ with information asked the court to disclose it only to lawyers employed by a law firm hired by Oracle.

SAP produced about 81,000 documents in the case, Microsoft more than 20,000 pages, PeopleSoft close to two million pages and Lawson Software 3000 pages plus 300MB of electronic data, lawyers for the companies said.

The DOD provided six documents, its counsel said: "The Department of Defense is a major purchaser of the human resources systems that Oracle and its competitors sell and wants to protect the integrity of its procurement process." SAP's lawyer said the documents it provided contain trade secrets including details about competitive bidding, pricing and deals that weare currently in the works. The attorney representing Lawson Software also told the court it did not want to give Oracle information that could give it a competitive advantage.

The judge denied the request, saying he did not want to degrade Oracle's in-house lawyers to second-class citizens. However, Judge Walker did issue an order limiting access to only two Oracle employees and set limits to how they can access the information and what they can do with it.

Lawyers for several of the third parties said they would discuss the ruling with their clients and might appeal it.

However, PeopleSoft was satisfied by the court's ruling, spokesperson, Steve Swasey, said. The company had expressed concerns that its confidential information might end up on Oracle's computer systems because of email exchanges between Oracle's in-house and outside counsel.

The judge ordered Oracle to use secure connections and not to store any data on Oracle servers.

Oracle launched its hostile bid for PeopleSoft in June last year. The all-cash offer has been raised twice and is now valued at $US9.4 billion. Oracle is offering $US26 per PeopleSoft share, a price higher than PeopleSoft's shares have traded at in the past 52 weeks.

The DOJ filed a lawsuit last month to block Oracle's hostile takeover bid for PeopleSoft. Combining the two companies would stifle competition in the enterprise software market, according to the DOJ.

It sees Oracle, PeopleSoft and SAP as the only companies that sell enterprise applications meeting the needs of large organisations.

A third pre-trial conference at the San Francisco District Court in the DOJ's case against Oracle has been scheduled for April 16.