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Jury awards Oracle $1.3 bln in suit against SAP

Database giant Oracle has won a major victory in its software theft case against rival SAP: a jury has ordered SAP to pay Oracle $1.3 billion to Oracle for stealing software and customer support materials from a password-protected Oracle Web site. If the finding holds up, the award will be one of the largest ever granted for software piracy, and may send a clear signal to the enterprise and business software communities not only because of the size of the ruling, but because of the damage to the reputation of one of the industry’s major names.

Few industry watchers were surprised that the jury awarded Oracle damages: before the trial got underway, SAP admitted some liability and set aside some $160 million to pay for damages, about $120 of which has already been granted to Oracle. But few expected the jury to award such a large amount to Oracle.

“The trial made it clear that SAPs most senior executives were aware of the illegal activity from the very beginning,” said Oracle President Safra Catz, in a statement. “For more than three years, SAP stole thousands of copies of Oracle software and then resold that software and related services to Oracle’s own customers.”

The case surrounded the action of a software support company called TomorrowNow, which SAP acquired in 2005. Oracle uncovered unusual activity on a protected customer support Web site, including a number of registrations with obviously fraudulent information and enormous amount of software and customer support documents being transfered to servers operated by TomorrowNow. SAP admitted that TomorrowNow had been illicitly downloading material from Oracle, but threw itself on the mercy of the court, arguing that Oracles claims of damages were outrageously overblown. Oracle maintained that SAP owed it billions for the stolen software, as well as stolen business: according to Oracle, SAP picked up 358 customer using materials it stole from Oracle.

“We are, of course, disappointed by this verdict and will pursue all available options, including post-trial motions and appeal if necessary,” SAP wrote in its own statement. “This will unfortunately be a prolonged process and we continue to hope that the matter can be resolved appropriately without more years of litigation.”

SAP shut down TomorrowNow some time ago.

Oracle’s ever-outspoken CEO Larry Ellison used the trial as a means to humiliate rival SAP, and wasted no time dragging rival Hewlett-Packard into the trial as well, attempting to subpoena HP’s new CEO, Leo Apotheker, to ask what he was doing while TomorrowNow was busy stealing Oracle software. Before taking over HP’s top spot, Apotheker was a CEO as top sales executive at SAP. Of course, Oracle’s new co-President is former HP CEO Mark Hurd.

SAP’s next move in the case is not clear. The judge in the case theoretically has the power to reduce the jury’s damage award, but it’s rare for a judge to modify a jury verdict in these sorts of cases.

[Photo credit: Oracle Corporate Communications]

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