Judge radically scales back Oracle court victory over SAP

Larry Ellison (photo: Oracle Corporate Communications)

Last year, Oracle won a mammoth court victory against SAP, one of its main competitors in database and enterprise services: a jury awarded Oracle $1.3 billion for SAP stealing software and customer support materials from an Oracle password-protected Web site. At the time, it was one of the largest awards ever granted for software piracy—but no more: Judge Phyllis Hamilton in the U.S. District Court in Oakland has scaled back the award to Oracle to a mere $272 million, saying the $1.3 billion award was “contrary to the weight of the evidence, and was grossly excessive.”

“We believed the jury’s verdict was wrong and are pleased at the significant reduction in damages,” SAP said in a statement distributed via email. “We hope the court’s action will help drive this matter to a final resolution.”

“We believe the jury got it right and we intend to pursue the full measure of damages that we believe are owed,” said Oracle, in a statement.

If Oracle chooses to fight the new damages ruling, the company could opt for a new trial before a fresh jury. In either case, Oracle achieves what it has consistently aimed for throughout the four-year trial process: repeatedly humiliating a top competitor in open court over software theft.

The new $272 million ruling is based on an early estimate from an Oracle expert on the amount of profit Oracle had lost as a result of SAP’s actions. The $1.3 billion total amounted to almost half of SAP’s profits for the year, and was almost nine times the amount of money SAP had set aside to handle the case.

The case centered around actions of a now-defunct SAP subsidiary, TomorrowNet, which fraudulently logged into a password-protected Oracle customer support site and repeatedly downloaded massive amounts of software and customer support documents. SAP admitted to TomorrowNet’s actions, but argued to the court that Oracle’s claims of damages were severely overblown. Oracle’s ever-outspoken Larry Ellison used the trial as a stage to pillory rival SAP for software theft and unethical behavior, while trying (unsuccessfully) to put current HP CEO Leo Apotheker on the stand to answer for the company: Apotheker was head of SAP at the time.

[Photo credit: Oracle Corporate Communications]