EC formally objects to Oracle buying Sun

European regulators have formally objected to Oracle's acquisition of Sun Microsystems. Oracle vows to fight the conclusion.

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The European Commission on Monday formally dug in its heels over Oracle's planned acquisition of Sun Microsystems, but Oracle accused the regulatory body of "profound misunderstanding" in a rebuttal that declared its intention to fight the opinion.

The regulatory body issued a statement of objections about the merger, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing from Sun Microsystems. The open-source MySQL database software is the sole issue of concern in the matter, Sun said in the filing.

"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," Sun said in the filing.

Oracle, though, fired back immediately, saying the objection "reveals a profound misunderstanding of both database competition and open-source dynamics." And indicating that other technologies are in limbo during the European deliberations, Oracle said, "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."

Meanwhile, the U.S. Justice Department reiterated its stance that the acquisition isn't anticompetitive. But given the gulf between Oracle and EC perspectives and Oracle's unwillingness to spin the MySQL software group off, it appears the matter won't be resolved soon.

MySQL is open-source software, meaning anyone may see, modify, and distribute the human-readable source code that underlies the software package computers actually run. Oracle's core database product is proprietary, meaning they don't grant those freedoms. MySQL is used widely at Facebook and Google among other companies, and competes to some extent with Oracle's existing products, arguably indirectly by expanding into newer markets to which Oracle's software isn't as well-suited.

Oracle castigated the commission in its statement:

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...

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.

The Justice Department, which is in Oracle's camp, detailed its reasoning in a statement from Deputy Assistant Attorney General Molly Boast of the Justice Department's Antitrust Division.

And though Boast pointed to the department's "strong and positive relationship on competition policy matters" with the EC, she also said, "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."

The Justice Department reasoned that there are other database packages available and that open-source projects can be forked by those who disagree with corporate sponsors' handling of the software.

"Several factors led the (Justice Department's antitrust) 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," Boast said. "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."