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November 10, 2010

Oracle-SAP spat update: Dignity not in abundance

The Oracle-SAP case is getting ugly. Gary Flood brings us up to date

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Earlier this week we alerted you to the bunfight at the OK Corral between business software giants Oracle and SAP, whereby the former is trying to screw a cool $2bn out of the latter for copyright infringement.

Oracle boss Larry Ellison

But we didn’t tell you that ‘Orrible is in turn being sued by no less a suitor than Uncle Sam, with the Federal authorities saying Ellison’s mob had overcharged it by "tens of millions of dollars" in a case that’s been rumbling on since 2007.

It’s a complex case and easy to get lost in the legal minutiae, but the central claim is that Oracle didn’t offer the US public sector the same kind of deals that it was offering as custom its commercial customers, a bit of equal treatment mandated by the body that process contracts for US government bodies.

Sorry – less exciting than what’s happening in the California court, where Ellison’s lawyers are fighting the SAP ambulance chasers or even more than the $120m the Germans have so far coughed up. Nope, they want it all, and can you blame them – that’s what their system level programming tells them to do.

The fun part there is that since the case opened last week the US press has stories about ‘Orrible hiring private dicks to find former SAP head and now HP supremo Leo Apotheker and make him take the stand (the claim being that he must have known/approved of/sanctioned the illegal doings of a now shuttered SAP subsidiary that had nicked some of Oracle’s code and IP, basically).

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That revelation followed Ellison himself taking the stand and being challenged on his company’s claims that such theft lost him major customer numbers and revenue (30% of the old Peoplesoft and 15% of the former Siebel customer bases, according to what Oracle filed in court) – as much as $4bn, he said with a straight face.

Leo Apotheker, SAP's former CEO

Then how come your own internal comms don’t show such terror, asked the brief? Turns out Larry doesn’t trust email that much – maybe he’d seen Bill Gates’ disastrous testimony in the anti-trust suit at the start of the Noughties? "I did not write down what I thought was a worst-case scenario," he said, adding, eventually, that he thought as many as 300 customers got stolen in the end… which he then confirmed was nothing like 30% of the customer base. And so on.

SAP – or a part of SAP – did wrong, no question and it deserves a spank for it, yes. Oracle deserves recompense – quite rightly. But we’d be more convinced of Oracle taking the moral high ground on this one if they weren’t in the middle of their own law suit for less than 100% straight dealing.

This would have been better settled out of court and Ellison’s antics being restrained by wiser counsel, we feel.

But we’ll still follow the case! Does that makes us deeply shallow?

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