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Jury orders SAP to pay Oracle $1.3 billion

A federal jury has ordered SAP to pay $1.3 billion to its archenemy, Oracle, for stealing customer support documents and software in a scheme to steal customers.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A federal jury on Tuesday ordered SAP AG to pay $1.3 billion to its archenemy, Oracle Corp., for stealing customer-support documents and software in a scheme to siphon off customers.

The verdict came after less than a day of deliberations and is devastating for SAP. SAP's entire after-tax profit last year was just over $2 billion.

The three-week trial turned into a spectacle involving three of the world's biggest technology companies.

Stoking the drama were the colorful public provocations of Oracle Corp. CEO Larry Ellison, the looming possibility of a crushing verdict against a company that makes ubiquitous business software, and the specter of Silicon Valley's most elusive new celebrity, Hewlett-Packard Co. CEO Leo Apotheker.

Oracle roped HP into the fray by claiming that Apotheker, who used to run SAP, was deeply involved in the scam. Oracle tried to track him down to testify, but said HP refused a subpoena on his behalf. HP has insisted that Apotheker had limited knowledge of the matter, and the company accused Oracle of harassment.

Even without the big verdict, Oracle had already won in two key ways. It sullied SAP's reputation, and took a whack at the new leader of Oracle's new nemesis, HP.

Oracle had been demanding billions of dollars from SAP for the theft. SAP, which is based in Walldorf, Germany, admitted that a subsidiary stole the documents and argued it owed just $40 million.

The jury, in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of California, sided with Oracle's argument that the value of the stolen intellectual property was vast, and that enforcing copyrights is vital to maintaining a healthy technology industry and funding innovation.

The thrust of SAP's defense was that it should only pay for money it made from the 358 customers it gained with the stolen data.

SAP and Oracle are two of the world's biggest business software makers, and Oracle's discovery that an SAP subsidiary had deployed technology to break into password-protected Oracle websites and vacuum up the contents was a golden gotcha moment.

Oracle, based in Redwood Shores, sued in March 2007. On the eve of the trial, SAP accepted liability, and vowed to fight the size of Oracle's claims.