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Judge in Oracle case won't seal business secrets

"This is not a national security case," Judge Vaughn Walker replies to concerns about proprietary business information that may be submitted as evidence to the court by Oracle, competitors and clients.

Concern over the disclosure of trade secrets cropped up again in the pretrial phase of the United States' antitrust case against Oracle, with a federal judge sternly rebuking a Department of Justice request to shelter evidence or testimony that may come up in the trial from public view.

United States District Court Judge Vaughn Walker's comments came during a pretrial hearing at which he responded to a request from Justice Department attorneys that the court consider sealing "highly confidential" evidence introduced for the trial. The Justice Department may use proprietary information provided by Oracle rivals and clients. The court has already granted a protective order to guard the confidentiality of documents produced during the discovery phase of the trial.

Walker showed little sympathy for the request. "I'm very, very reluctant to have anything on which this court bases a decision under some kind of wraps," Walker said. "This is not a national security case."

He also chided both sides for regarding the media's interest in the case as little more than "idle curiosity."

Oracle is challenging a Justice Department suit that seeks to block the company from acquiring software rival PeopleSoft. The government alleges that the acquisition would harm competition in the market for business systems that help large organizations run their operations smoothly. The trial is set to begin June 7.

At Friday's hearing, Walker also rejected the government's request that the court require Oracle to produce a broader preliminary witness list, but he granted the agency's request for more time to submit its analysis of Oracle's discount request forms, which Oracle was late in delivering.

The judge went on to praise Oracle and the Justice Department for generally cooperating with each other during the pretrial proceedings.

The protection of sensitive documents figured largely at another pretrial hearing in March. The Justice Department and several Oracle competitors and customers sought to restrict Oracle's in-house counsel from viewing certain information they had submitted as part of the discovery process. The judge ruled in Oracle's favor, preserving the rights of two Oracle in-house attorneys to review the information.

Oracle and its competitors have filed with the court reams of documents that contain detailed descriptions of bidding procedures, product development plans and other sensitive information. Oracle, SAP, PeopleSoft and other suppliers in the high-margin business software industry are notoriously secretive about prices and the mechanics of customer negotiations.

Oracle and the Justice Department are scheduled to convene in court again on May 21 to provide Walker with a "tutorial" on the products Oracle and PeopleSoft sell and the markets they serve. Each party has agreed to produce a final witness list by April 26. A pretrial conference is scheduled for June 2.