back to article Oracle hits UK reseller with lawsuit for allegedly reselling grey market Sun hardware

Oracle has filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against a British reseller that — it claims — infringed Sun Microsystems’ intellectual property by engaging in grey market reselling. TXO Systems is accused having “offered for sale and/or sold goods bearing the Sun Trade Marks and/or the Oracle Trade Marks which have not been …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Out IBM'ing IBM

    Even Big Blue allowed the 'grey market' to operate on mainframes. As long as you had a Maintenance Acceptance Qualification letter from the original site and followed it up with an MAQ inspection at installation you were good to go. The MAQ inspection would include checking all features installed and verifying that your O?S licencing covered you for that processor band so it was stringent but I bought several second user mainframes in my time as a tech support manager.

    1. Sparkus Bronze badge

      Re: Out IBM'ing IBM

      IBM only did that after loosing a series of similar lawsuits including the PCM battles with Gene Amdahl..............

    2. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge
      WTF?

      Re: Out IBM'ing IBM

      And yet Oracle isn't suing eBay. Go figure...

      https://www.ebay.com/b/Sun-Microsystems-PC-Desktops-All-In-One-Computers/179/bn_732028

  2. TVU

    So, Oracle is suing someone (again).

    Ultimately, I think this will be self defeating in the long term. If companies can't get used kit from reputable resellers then they will have no choice but to abandon Oracle and Sun equipment entirely.

    1. FuzzyTheBear

      That just might

      be the right option for everyone .. abandon Oracle completely.

  3. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

    I didn't know there still was Sun hardware!?

    Getting all nostalgic now about Pizza Box Sun machines... Unobtainable luxury powerful machines with gigantic screens and graphical interfaces, and three button mice.

    1. John Riddoch

      There hasn't been any new Sun hardware for a few years now, it's all Oracle branded. However, there's likely still a market for old Sun kit on the 2nd hand market (which Wildfire seems to specialise in).

      In terms of the lawsuit, it seems the gist is "we sold these servers in location X and you're not allowed to sell them on in location Y" which seems rather fussy. The grey market is generally used to get new kit slightly cheaper because companies priced kit differently in different regions to maximise their profit margins, I don't see the point in complaining about kit sold 10 years ago now being refurbished and sold somewhere else. Gut feel is that these companies have done something else Oracle don't like but they can't sue for that, so they're causing them hassles in other ways to get them to stop the thing they don't like as this feels like a shaky lawsuit.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        > In terms of the lawsuit, it seems the gist is "we sold these servers in location X and you're not allowed to sell them on in location Y" which seems rather fussy.

        It's a claim which is explicitly illegal in a number of countries - pull this in Australia as one for-instance and the ACCC will go after you for restraint of trade behaviour. Copyright cartel activities are strongly disliked by a number of regulators

    2. DarkwavePunk

      We actually used two of those "Pizza Box Sun machines" to run a small ISP back in the day. I remember being given a Sun Ultra 30 (or something like it. Tower box anyway) at my second job in the UK. Luxury. Proper mouse and the Crtl key in the right place on the keyboard. Running glorious CDE with window widgets that looked like things you're meant to click on. Add a monitor that you could kill someone with if you were strong or foolish enough to try and pick up by yourself.

    3. John Sager

      I had a SPARCStation 2 as a desktop (or rather side-table-top) machine for several years before I persuaded TPTB to let me buy a PC running Linux. I stuck with SunOS 4 rather than 'upgrading' to Solaris. That was a very capable machine for its time.

  4. Mishak

    Did I read that right?

    Oracle have been watching what was going on for some time before taking action? If so, should they be due "compensation" for instances after they were first aware of the problem as they could (should) have issued a "cease and desist" at that time?

    1. GrumpenKraut Silver badge

      Re: Did I read that right?

      Seems like Oracle sprung to action only when stuff was sold in the US, well knowing they'd get laughed out of court when trying to pull that shit in Europe.

      I am waiting for an article reporting on something Oracle is doing that is not complete and utter asshattery. Not holding my breath.

      1. Wade Burchette Silver badge

        Re: Did I read that right?

        I would not be surprised if Oracle has a factory dedicated to punching puppies and kicking kittens.

        1. GrumpenKraut Silver badge
          Devil

          Re: Did I read that right?

          Just one? Bloody optimistic I'd say.

        2. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

          Re: Did I read that right?

          I would pay an overseas agency to mistreat puppies or kittens when some people take goodwill towards non-human animals too far. Picket my grocery run? Cat golf will happen (someplace where it's legal).

          I just would have to think very carefully before contracting Oracle. They probably have per-squeak licensing.

          1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

            Re: Did I read that right?

            Not popular... How about rats, then? Rats are not popular, but I expect that an agency of creative thinkers on animal cruelty can do things to rats that you won't want to think about.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Did I read that right?

        Republicans are all for unrestricted capitalism when it's to their benefit. When it's not, you'll see some of the most restrictive markets in the free world.

      3. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: Did I read that right?

        >Seems like Oracle sprung to action only when stuff was sold in the US, well knowing they'd get laughed out of court when trying to pull that shit in Europe.

        Trouble is Oracle is suing TXO in the London intellectual property courts ...

  5. Janne Smith

    Given that this sounds like second hand kit that they were selling on, I can't see how TXO had any purchase agreement with Oracle that precluded the equipment being sold elsewhere. So it sounds like Oracle's usual "we can afford to bankrupt you through litigation costs before the case is thrown out, so settle now" approach. There again, didn't Levis have some dodgy import rules upheld, whereby it was illegal to import their products into the EU from any channels they didn't control? As I recall, it meant Levis could effectively control the price of their products to get a much bigger profit. Deeply uncompetitive and restrictive.

    1. alain williams Silver badge

      Levis and computers

      Yes: Levi Strauss won that. IIRC Tesco were selling Levis bought in Czechoslovakia, etc, at prices cheaper than available in the UK.

      So: the likes of Levi Strauss can take advantage of globalization (ie get stuff made where cheapest) but consumers cannot. One rule for the big companies, another for consumers.

      I would agree with Levi Strauss charging more for jeans in the UK if they made the jeans in the UK paying workers UK wages.

      Is what Oracle is doing really very different ?

      1. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: Levis and computers

        Levi only had a case and won because the jeans were new and had not been previously sold through a retail outlet.

        This case looks interesting, as has been noted this is most probably old Sun kit and thus the question is wheher Oracle are being their typical daft self's and insisting that unsold systems and parts from warehouses (ie. 'new') should have their sale restricted to the region they were originally shipped to. Personally, if working in this marketplace I would ensure there was a 'Poundland' style retail outlet/ebay store in the purchase chain...

        Which would also suggest that there are a decent number of Sun sites that aren't buying support etc. from Oracle...

      2. steamnut

        Re: Levis and computers

        In the case with Tesco the net result was Tesco got a company to design their own jeans and then found a manufacturer to make them. The jeans were low priced and fit for purpose and Levis lost a big customer in the process. It seems that a lot of people are not willing to pay extra money for that "Levi experience". They just wanted a pair of jeans s'all.

        1. MJI Silver badge

          Re: Levis and computers

          I have two pairs of decent jeans, both are Tesco

    2. naive Silver badge

      Globally the right of ownership should be protected.

      It is infringing on ownership rights if OEM manufactures can prevent buyers to resell their stuff globally.

      Sold is sold, a transfer of ownership from the seller to the buyer, including all the legal rights as defined by the law.

      How would it be if GM starts suing someone for selling a Chevy Camaro to Europe ?.

      The sickening ownership restrictions Big-Tech tries to impose on buyers of their products, be it new or second hand, should be outlawed and not differ from the laws applying to physical goods.

      1. oiseau Silver badge
        FAIL

        Sold is sold, a transfer of ownership from the seller to the buyer, including all the legal rights as defined by the law.

        Exactly ...

        And if I purchased it, it is mine so I can bloody well do WTF I want with it.

        Dickheads ...

        O.

      2. Electronics'R'Us Silver badge
        Holmes

        Restrictions of forward sale

        The only law I know of in the USA that can prevent someone from selling something they have paid for is ITAR and even then it only restricts sales to specified countries (and sometimes individuals).

        Long story as to why I am familiar with it. Amusingly, if someone in the UK buys ITAR listed equipment, it is considered a re-export if it has to go back to the USA for any reason and needs an export licence. It then needs a new USA export licence to be returned to its owner. Madness.

        Seems like Big Red wants to try and force people to buy only new kit (and if they are sourcing from the grey market, I don't think that's going to happen) for which they can then stiff their sales people out of the commission they should have earned.

        Going to be interesting.

        1. Janne Smith

          Re: Restrictions of forward sale

          Suddenly remembered the RSA encryption T-shirts from back in the 1990s. I actually wore mine entering and leaving the US for work in 1999!

        2. The Basis of everything is...
          Stop

          Re: Restrictions of forward sale

          When I was in the USA many years ago, Cadburys' Bournville Dark was illegal. The story went that Hersheys owned the exclusive rights to import Cadbury chocolate to the USA, but believed there is no market for dark chocolate in the USA so refused to do so. Anyone else attempting to import it was breaking their rights, which were enforceable by US Customs, thus bringing it to the country was technically smuggling.

          I knew of a shop that had small bars available under the counter for those with a British accent for around $15 each if things got really desperate.

          A few years back Hersheys successfully sued a chocolate importer (LBB) too, so yeah, it does happen.

          1. MJI Silver badge

            Re: Restrictions of forward sale

            I know someone living there and he is furious over this as he liked Dairy Milk, cannot get UK made and a well know company with a factory in Bourneville was prosecuted by the sick manufacturers for selling Dairy Milk in US.

            If I was in charge of the proper side I would have removed sicks licence immediately.

      3. Alan Brown Silver badge

        "How would it be if GM starts suing someone for selling a Chevy Camaro to Europe ?."

        This more-or-less happened with secondhand Jeeps being sold into New Zealand - copyright claims were filed and thrown out.

        In a similar vein, Australian Ford Falcons were rebranded when sold into the UK because Ford started making very loud noises at the importers (these were mostly turned into hearses)

        It still happens with books - it's illegal to diirectly import and sell US market titles in Europe or AU/NZ thanks to copyright issues and Apple maintain an iron fist on distribution via copyright (to the point in the 1990s where it was cheaper to fly first class from Australia/NZ to Los Angeles, stay a week, buy a top end Mac system there, import it and pay all the applicable taxes bringing it home than buy one locally in Auckland/Sydney)

  6. Martin hepworth

    Digital and Systime

    Reminds me of the fun Systime has reselling badged Digital VAX's and then having to source them on the grey market.

  7. Binraider Bronze badge

    Given that Sun Systems we still had in production 20 years after their release were very definitely only supported by the Grey Spares market; what exactly is Oracle's problem here? Do they want us using their hardware and software or not?

    We don't need a $250,000 sparc 7 plus ongoing support contract. Not when off the shelf bits do the same job better, today. It was rather different in 1997 when getting a good server meant getting something outside of X86.

    Decommissioning the old ones was left as long as possible because it required new software to be developed. That would be no different if adopting current Sparc hardware.

    Maybe obscene hardware pricing and poor after sales support (unlike Sun of old, who were excellent) are why Oracle aren't shifting units any more; and have had to lay off a ton of staff. Only those tied completely to the need for the Sparc architecture are sticking about. And if you have those ties, you should be thinking about undoing them.

    All very sad really but it's the end of the line for that particular avenue of tech short of some miraculous reinvention. Or, preferably, Oracle offloading SUN and SPARC IP to someone that can do something good with it.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      "Oracle offloading SUN and SPARC IP to someone that can do something good with it."

      That ship has sailed. Even Fujitsu has dropped Sparc architecture and there is no more OS development going on (or linux SPARC development - because people can't get the hardware)

      What's still there is life support stuff. It's running because it's running and nobody's decided that the risk of not not finding replacement hardware is higher than the "too hard" task of porting to something else.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Considering the viewpoints here (https://www.oracle.com/cloud/compute/arm-processors/) and here (https://blogs.oracle.com/cloud-infrastructure/arm-based-cloud-computing-is-the-next-big-thing-introducing-arm-on-oci), Oracle may dump (Ultra)Sparc for ARM -- and that would be a say day, indeed.

  8. LDS Silver badge
    Devil

    "Oracle offloading SUN and SPARC IP to someone that can do something good with it."

    Fail to keep the company afloat and re-sell it to Oracle again?

  9. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

    Used Kit

    I am not familiar with the kit in question but many have pointed out it is probably used, refurbished kit. As general rule of law in Feraldom, once the ownership has transferred to the customer the customer can resell the kit whenever they want. It does not matter what the kit is. In some industries there are companies that specialize in buy, refurbishing, and reselling used kit. In some industries the new kit retailers and the OEM will sell refurbished kit.

    This appears it's Minions being Minions because Leisure Suit Larry wants a new island.

  10. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    substantial damages?

    Wouldn't that require Oracle to prove in court that they are substantially gouging their European customers?

    Is that something they want to do? Is Ms Streisand now in charge of Oracle?

  11. Snowy
    Flame

    Not sold just rented

    The idea that when you buy something you are just renting it and you have no rights over your hardware need to stop!

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ahh, we’re all but shut of Oracle

    The developer who got asked to port our last Oracle based product (and learn PostgreSQL in the process) couldn’t have been more delighted. We also had a fraught move to Open JDK (probably sensible that we went for a support contract with Red Hat) but everyone was on board with that. Just one or two customers with SPARC servers to go. Those were great back in the (Sun) day.

    Remind me: what did Oracle do to make everyone, from the Chairman of the board to rank and file developers, loathe them so completely?

  13. hayzoos

    Claiming trademark infringement

    The fine point is Oracle claiming trademark infringement. First thought of solution would be to strip all the badges before resale. Except, what about the software bits? Software also enjoys copyright protections which could be leveraged to protect removal of trademark badges. If you think about it both hardware and more recently, and to a lesser extent, software can be protected by patents and do not forget about design patent. Patents could be leveraged also to protect removal of trademark badges. So the argument could be that the trademark badges are an integral part of the kit thanks to the software copyrights, design patents, software patents, and hardware patents. Therefore all that has to be won is the claim that the trademarks cannot be sold/resold in markets not allowed by the trademark IP holder.

    Brilliant! I should patent that legal manoeuver.

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