The European Commission opened an in-depth investigation into Oracle's planned $7.4 billion takeover of Sun Microsystems Thursday, citing "serious concerns" about the deal's effect on competition in the market for databases.
Europe's top competition authority called for a closer look at the deal after conducting a routine month-long examination. The Commission now has 90 working days, or until Jan. 19, 2010, to reach a decision. The Commission "has to examine very carefully the effects on competition in Europe when the world's leading proprietary database company proposes to take over the world's leading open source database company," said Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes in a statement. Sun competes against Oracle, among others, with its open source database, MySQL.
[ This summer Sun stockholders approved the merger with Oracle. | InfoWorld's Paul Krill discussed many of the issues surrounding the acquisition of Sun in this reporter's notebook written when it appeared IBM, not Oracle, would buy Sun. | For full coverage of the Oracle-Sun deal, see InfoWorld's special report. ]
In a statement issued Thursday, Oracle acknowledged the Commission had extended its probe but provided no specific commentary on the decision. The statement also noted that the U.S. Department of Justice and Sun shareholders have already approved the merger. Sun did not immediately respond to a request for comment.The database market is highly concentrated with the three main competitors of proprietary databases -- Oracle, IBM and Microsoft -- controlling roughly 85 percent of the market in terms of revenue, the Commission said in a statement. Oracle is the market leader in proprietary databases, while Sun's MySQL database product is the leading open source database. The Oracle databases and Sun's MySQL "compete directly in many sectors of the database market and MySQL is widely expected to represent a greater competitive constraint as it becomes increasingly functional," the Commission said.
The Commission said that during its initial probe it found that the open-source nature of Sun's MySQL might not eliminate fully the potential for anti-competitive effects.
"In its in-depth investigation, the Commission will therefore address a number of issues, including Oracle's incentive to further develop MySQL as an open source database," the Commission said.
Earlier this week Sun reported a 31 percent drop in sales during the quarter running from April to June, compared with sales during the same period in 2008. Operating loss for the quarter was $218m, compared with an operating profit of $63m a year earlier.
The delays in the merger have taken a toll on Sun's hardware business, analysts say, as customers turn to rival vendors like Hewlett-Packard and IBM amid uncertainty over Oracle's intentions.
Oracle is apparently planning to feature Sun hardware's ability to run its software at the upcoming OpenWorld conference, but won't be able to provide a full product road map until the deal is complete.
Despite the extended probe, industry observers polled Thursday expressed doubt the merger will ultimately be blocked.