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Judge moves to unseal documents in Oracle case

Says certain documents, which Oracle and others want to keep from eyes of rivals, may be necessary to decide case.

SAN FRANCISCO--During what may have been the final hearing in the Oracle antitrust trial, U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker said Friday that he may unseal certain exhibits that could influence his decision.

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Oracle, PeopleSoft and more than a dozen other companies that have testified or supplied evidence in the case object to the public disclosure of certain documents, citing a risk of competitive harm. At issue during the hearing was the protection from public view of about 70 documents detailing business plans, and pricing and discounting information.

Oracle is fighting a U.S. Department of Justice suit that seeks to block the software company's proposed takeover of competitor PeopleSoft. The Justice Department says Oracle's hostile, $7.7 billion bid for PeopleSoft would give the merged company too much market power. Oracle argues that Germany's SAP and a flotilla of other competitors would keep it in check.

The nonjury trial began in early June with a month of testimony. Closing arguments were presented July 20. Walker's decision is expected within the next several weeks.

The judge did not immediately unseal any documents at the hearing. Instead, he reserved the right to unseal documents or uncover blacked-out text in some of the disputed material--but only if it directly related to his decision.

One document in question is a detailed account of Oracle's discounting activity, including names of customers, their discounts and the dates of each sale, for hundreds of transactions. The Justice Department had introduced the documents, and Oracle objected to their public disclosure.

Walker said the information is "highly relevant to the issues of the case" and that it could give him a snapshot of the market. He traded quips with Oracle attorney Dan Wall over whether Wall would object to the public disclosure of the documents if they helped Oracle win the case.

Other material Walker refused to keep under seal was Bearing Point's business case for an initiative with Microsoft to jointly market business systems. Oracle has argued throughout the trial that Microsoft should not be discounted as a competitor to the company in the business applications market. The Justice Department disagrees.

PeopleSoft sought to keep numerous documents under seal as well, including competitive selling guides for winning deals against Oracle and SAP and an analysis of how the company fared in competitive deals. Walker denied the request to keep those under permanent seal.

On the other hand, the judged agreed to protect most documents that IBM, Microsoft and Lawson requested be kept from the public view.

Walker also requested that Oracle and the Justice Department fill some "gaps" in the court's file of exhibits, because some documents are missing. The request is unlikely to delay the judge's decision, Oracle attorney Wall said.