Oracle was hit with a counterclaim by Rimini Street, the third-party software maintenance provider it sued in January over alleged intellectual property violations.

Oracle's suit is groundless, anticompetitive and disparaging, Rimini Street said in the response. Rimini Street provides support for SAP and Oracle applications, pledging that customers will save at least 50 percent off their vendor-provided support bills. While third-party support means customers don't receive product upgrades, Rimini Street caters to companies with stable legacy systems and no immediate desire for updates.

Vendors fiercely covet annual software maintenance revenues, which are charged as a percentage of a customer's licence fees and provide steady income even when new business is harder to find. "Software licence updates and product support" accounted for 51 percent of Oracle's total revenue in its most recent quarter, generating $3.3 billion against just $281 million in operating expenses, for a profit margin north of 90 percent.

Oracle's suit against Rimini Street followed a similar one it filed in 2007 against SAP and its former subsidiary, TomorrowNow, which also offered third-party support for Oracle applications. TomorrowNow workers illegally downloaded software from Oracle's support systems, according to Oracle. SAP has said the employees were authorised to download the materials on behalf of TomorrowNow customers, but also that some "inappropriate downloads" had occurred.

Rimini Street CEO Seth Ravin was a founder of TomorrowNow. Oracle has alleged Rimini Street amounts to a redux of TomorrowNow's "corrupt" business model. Rimini Street "typically logs on to Oracle's password protected Technical Support websites using a customer credential, then downloads Software and Support Materials in excess of the customer's authorisation under its licence agreement," according to Oracle's suit.

The company then uses automatic crawling tools to download Oracle materials "in intentional violation of Oracle's Technical Support website Terms of Use," the complaint states. "These intrusions have damaged Oracle's support services by causing the databases which host the Software and Support Materials to freeze, disrupting their operation and impeding the availability of lawful downloads to Oracle's other customers."

Rimini Street's answer and counterclaim denies wrongdoing on its part. "Oracle had full knowledge that Rimini Street's actions were authorised by Oracle's customers," it states. "Far from acting as 'fraudulent thieves,' Rimini Street has acted legally, openly (and often with Oracle's full cooperation)." In addition, Oracle has been unresponsive to invitations to discuss Rimini's business practices or have them independently vetted, the filing alleges.

Rimini Street also takes "extraordinary efforts... to ensure that Oracle's intellectual property rights are respected," whereas Oracle has conducted a "systematic campaign" against Rimini, including a series of "hostile" letters, the filing states.

"Over the years, Rimini Street responded to each Oracle letter, explained the appropriateness of Rimini Street's practices and procedures, and repeatedly offered to meet and discuss any questions or concerns Oracle might have about Rimini Street's processes and procedures," it states. Rimini admitted it has used automated downloading tools, but said they were necessary "because Oracle refused to help its customers identify and take delivery of such large volumes of materials."