Defense, Companies Aim to Shield Sensitive Documents from Oracle

A decision is expected tomorrow on whether filings by Microsoft, SAP, the Defense Department and others will guard some of thousands of pages from Oracle lawyers' eyes in suit to block PeopleSoft takeover.

A handful of enterprises appealed to the U.S. District Court of Northern California earlier this week to further restrict Oracle Corp.s access to documents obtained by the U.S. Department of Justice in its suit to block Oracles $9.4 billion hostile takeover bid for PeopleSoft Inc.

The enterprises—the U.S. Department of Defense, Microsoft Corp., SAP AG, Lawson Software, QAD and Fidelity Employer Services—are asking the court to prevent Oracles in-house attorneys, Dorian Daley and Jeff Ross, from seeing any documentation designated as "confidential research, development or commercial information," according to court filings.

Microsoft, of Redmond, Wash., submitted 20,000 pages of documents to the Justice Department, while rival SAP submitted about 70,000 pages.

The courts mandate is to weigh the potential "injury of inadvertent or improper disclosure" of the information against the need to access it.

Oracle of Redwood Shores, Calif., has argued that its in-house attorneys should be privy to all of the Justices Departments documentation concerning the case—be it designated as highly sensitive or not. The company has until 4 p.m. Pacific time today to either oppose or support the six enterprises request to block access.

A hearing Friday morning in San Francisco will determine the outcome of those requests.

Tuesdays filings attempting to shield sensitive documents from Oracles lawyers eyes were "fairly standard" in cases of this type, said Tom Burnett, president of Merger Insight, an affiliate of the New York research and brokerage firm Wall Street Access.

"You shouldnt draw any conclusions about this particular case" based on the six enterprises actions, he said. "Everybodys protective around their industrial patents."

Microsoft spokesman Lou Gellos said the same thing about the companys move to limit access to some documents.

"We dont have any trouble with providing the documents as theyre needed with these proceedings," he said. "But obviously, when you get into the area where some of these documents go, its in our interest and in the industrys interest to keep them to ourselves."

Of about 20,000 pages Microsoft has filed in the case, trade secrets were involved in "a very small amount," Gellos said.

In court tomorrow, Burnett said, the Defense Department and companies will likely be granted at least parts of their requests to shield documents.

"We think that Justice has enough grounds for a case," Burnett said. "Most justices will tend to side with the government, unless theres an obvious misreading of the market. We think the documents they found on discovery will be enough for the judge to grant the injunction."

At any rate, its easy enough to read the tea leaves by looking at PeopleSofts stock price, Burnett pointed out. PeopleSoft is now trading at about $19 per share, a low cost signaling that investors, industry watchers and financial analysts think Oracles bid is headed downhill fast.

"Its just not that close a case that you have to worry about this legal mumbo jumbo," Burnett said. "If it were a decent case, PeopleSoft would be trading closer to $26, not at $19."

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