January 5, 2010

Oracle Gets Sued Over EPM Workspace (among other things)

The Story
Let's hit the high points. In 2005, a company called MB Technologies started licensing a technology called "Bindows" to Hyperion. Bindows (to way oversimplify which I'll be doing a lot of in this post) allows a Microsoft Windows like interface but over the web. The negotiations actually dated back to 2004 when Hyperion wanted to give Hyperion System 9 a "Windows on the Web" like experience.

It's my understanding (if I'm wrong, let me know via comment or personal e-mail and I'll correct happily) that this technology was used in pretty much every Hyperion web-delivered application including Hyperion Workspace, Hyperion Planning, and so on. If you login to Workspace, you'll notice menus, toolbars, and more that parallel remarkably the look-and-feel of Windows: that's Bindows technology at work.

Now fast-forward to 2007. Oracle acquired Hyperion and they obviously didn't want to rewrite all the Hyperion front-ends to not use Bindows, so they sought an addendum from MB Technologies allowing Oracle to keep using Bindows for Hyperion products that existed at the time of the acquisition. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, let's say Oracle decided to use Bindows for non-Hyperion applications in the Fusion product arena. Would Oracle ever do such a thing and if so, would they ever admit to it? Here's what MB Technologies claimed Robert Gersten (head of Oracle's EPM and BI development) wrote to them:
Bindows is used in three EPM components that are add-ons to the Fusion applications... We believe it would be better for my group to not re-write these GUIs of these components. It would be nice to work out something that is favorable to both parties.
Well, there's not a lot of wiggle room in that first sentence. Clearly, Bindows is being used in other Fusion apps (at least as add-ons). After some protracted negotiations, MB Technologies filed a suit on December 22, 2009 for fraud and copyright infringement.

So Who Cares?
That's fascinating and all, but isn't this a little inside baseball? Isn't the most likely outcome that Oracle has to pay some more money to MB Technologies?

Yes and no. While the likelihood of an out of court settlement is huge, long-term, Oracle won't want to remain tied to a third party company for licensing their core EPM interfaces. As Oracle stated at the time of the merger, they will eventually rewrite the front-ends to not use Bindows. While this won't necessarily mean a major change to the look-and-feel of products like Workspace and Planning (since Oracle could write their own "Windows on the Web" interface), it will mean that products which have spent years maturing are suddenly back to version 1.0 as the code bases start over again at ground zero.

I'm hoping that Oracle pulls an Ellison and just buys MB Technologies outright. Since they'd then own them, they could keep Bindows around for as long as they'd like. Since I don't see that as very likely, though, don't be shocked if you see a brand new front-end on several of the former Hyperion products (and some new Fusion EPM products just being created) in the next year or two as the GUIs get rewritten to remove Bindows. If so, prepare for bugs. But since this all just speculation, just sit back for the moment and hope for the best.


Indra Bangsawan said...

If Oracle can snap Silvercreek (even Hyperion), there is no reason to acquire MB Technologies.

Anonymous said...

wow, I'm not surprised though. This will really impact the quality of the application on the front end. Why does't Oracle just pay MB or settlement for the technologies. The dev. work and client satisfaction is risky in developing new code not to mention time to release to market.. what jerks.. though.. Their lawyers should have read the fine lines before developing fusion products with Bindows.. I hope Oracle learns something from this. I hope a settlement is made. Thanks for sharing this.. does that mean that all workspace system 9 clients have to upgrade to the new whatever versions they have once released to market?

Anonymous said...

Also, do you have any idea of what mature products will be impacted? thanks for the post again..