EU opens in-depth probe into Oracle, Sun deal

BRUSSELS, Sept 3 (Reuters) - European Union antitrust regulators launched on Thursday an in-depth probe into U.S. software firm Oracle's ORCL.O $7 billion takeover of computer maker Sun Microsystems JAVA.O, citing competition concerns.

“The (European) Commission has an obligation to ensure that customers would not face reduced choice or higher prices as a result of this takeover,” EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said in a statement.

The Commission, competition watchdog of the 27-country European Union, set a Jan. 19, 2010 deadline for its decision, putting the world’s No. 3 software maker, Oracle, months behind its original plan for closing the deal.

The regulatory delay could allow rivals -- including Hewlett-Packard Co HPQ.N and International Business Machines Corp IBM.N -- more time to poach hardware customers from Sun, the No. 4 maker of computer servers.

HP and IBM have been offering discounts and other incentives to woo Sun customers since Oracle agreed to buy Sun in April, playing up concerns that Oracle might have trouble running a hardware maker.

Oracle had on Aug. 20 received the green light from the U.S. Department of Justice for its takeover of Sun, developer of Java software, among the world’s most widely used computer languages.

The Commission said it was concerned that the open source nature of Sun’s MySQL database might not eliminate fully the potential for anti-competitive effects.

With both Oracle’s databases and MySQL competing directly in many sectors of the database market, MySQL is widely expected to represent a greater competitive constraint as it becomes increasingly functional, the EU executive said. (Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Dale Hudson)