Oracle accused of 'scare tactics' in Rimini Street case

The lawsuit over third-party software support is gaining intensity

The lawsuit between Oracle and third-party support provider Rimini Street has heated up further, with new allegations that Oracle is "abusing" the pre-trial discovery process and using "scare tactics" against customers in order to hurt Rimini Street's business.

Rimini Street CEO Seth Ravin co-founded TomorrowNow, a former SAP subsidiary at the heart of Oracle's corporate theft suit against SAP, which resulted in a |$1.3 billion jury award| (against SAP last year. Oracle alleged TomorrowNow workers illegally downloaded Oracle software and support materials. SAP accepted liability for TomorrowNow's actions but said the award, which a judge has overturned, was excessive. It's not yet clear whether Oracle will accept a lower award or a new trial on damages will be held.

Oracle filed suit against Rimini Street in January 2010, claiming that Ravin duplicated TomorrowNow's "corrupt business model" at Rimini Street. But the company has maintained it acts within its customers' rights under their software licenses.

"Oracle is using its customer depositions in this case to harm Rimini Street's relationship with active customers through the use of highly prejudicial questions and irrelevant documents related to TomorrowNow," Rimini Street said in a filing on Monday in U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada. "Specifically, Oracle is using its customer depositions improperly to scare Rimini's customers by referring to the criminal indictment of and large verdict against TomorrowNow and by implying that Rimini is engaging in the same illegal and criminal conduct."

Rimini's filing includes blacked-out excerpts from a Rimini Street customer deposition taken last Thursday. "The questions asked in no way required the use of the TomorrowNow indictment or even any reference to TomorrowNow," the filing states. "Oracle's counsel did not even have a good faith belief the customer knew anything about TomorrowNow. The improper motivation behind the entire line of questioning could not be more evident."

Some observers see the Rimini Street case as pivotal, believing its outcome will cement some ground rules for customers interested in using third-party support providers. Software companies are loath to see a vibrant market for such services emerge, due to the massive profits derived from vendor-provided support.

Rimini Street is asking the court for a protective order that would bar Oracle attorneys from "referencing any criminal or civil liability by TomorrowNow" when deposing its customers. Some 14 Rimini Street customers are scheduled for depositions over the next four weeks.

Oracle has subpoenaed 275 Rimini Street customers, with about 243 responding so far, according to a joint case management statement the companies filed Friday.

Oracle spokeswoman Deborah Hellinger declined comment.

In the case management statement, Oracle said Rimini had only given notice it planned to file the emergency motion on Friday. That decision was "unreasonable," Oracle said.

Much of the case management filing consists of back-and-forth allegations of the sort that promise fireworks if the case makes it to trial.

"Oracle has uncovered evidence that, in fact, Rimini maintained a central repository of Oracle software and shared that software among Rimini's customers," Oracle said. "This central repository (which Rimini employees often called its "software library" or 'internal software' share) is plainly not authorized by Rimini's customers' licenses with Oracle, and squarely contradicts Rimini's pleadings, which state that "[s]uch a 'library' has never existed at Rimini Street."

"Rimini deleted at least one such centralized software repository only one week before this lawsuit was filed," Oracle added.

Those "allegations of misconduct are baseless, and Oracle is fully aware that the deletion of the software-at-issue had nothing to do with the present litigation," Rimini responded.

The software was deleted by a Rimini employee in order to reclaim some disk space for other means, and neither the employee or anyone else at the company knew Oracle was about to file suit, it added. "Oracle's attempt to cast the removal of unused software as a 'strategic litigation' choice is uncalled for and unfortunate."

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris's e-mail address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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