Oracle vs SAP legal fight gets messier

Legalese aside, Oracle vs SAP is dirty and complicated, with 30 pages of incendiary allegations by both parties, he-said-she-said barbs and frank admissions by SAP and Oracle hinting at just how hard it is for each side to make its case.

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In mid-April, more details emerged from new court documents filed by Oracle and SAP in their year-long legal dispute regarding allegations that SAP illegally accessed Oracle's customer support systems.

At the centre of the furore: Did SAP's subsidiary, TomorrowNow, a provider of third-party maintenance support for Oracle's stable of business applications, engage in "systematic, illegal access to-and taking from-Oracle's computerised customer support systems," as Oracle's 2007 lawsuit alleges?

Oracle claims that as a result, "SAP has compiled an illegal library of Oracle's copyrighted software code and other materials," as the suit states.

Even though SAP has put TomorrowNow on the block, the case has not stood still. One of the latest court documents filed is what's called a "Joint Case Management Conference Statement," filed in advance of the April 24 conference between the two parties in US District Court in San Francisco. (At the conference, Judge Phyllis J. Hamilton reviewed the discovery process and deposition limits and confirmed that the schedule for alternative dispute resolution would remain in place.)

In the filing, Oracle sought to amend its complaint and add some new charges against SAP, including this claim: "SAP AG and SAP America knew-at executive levels-of the likely illegality of TomorrowNow's business model from the time of their acquisition of TomorrowNow and, for business reasons, failed to change it."

Dirty and difficult questions

Legalese aside, Oracle vs SAP is messy and complicated. The Joint CMC statement contains 30 pages of incendiary allegations by both parties, he-said-she-said barbs and frank admissions by SAP and Oracle hinting at just how hard it is for each side to make its case. For example, the discovery process, in which both parties gather evidence (in this case from computer systems) and interview people on both sides, has already become a massive, intricate and costly legal proceeding.

"To date, the discovery in this case has involved immense computer records, including terabytes of data, that require weeks to simply copy, not to mention produce, review and digest," notes Oracle's defense team. "This case also involves potentially hundreds of third parties, thousands of computer software environments, and tens of thousands of distinct downloads of Oracle Software and Support Materials. The subjects are vast and complicated, including the development, maintenance and use of these thousands of customer support environments by defendants-none of which has yet been produced because the physical size of these electronic records is so great."

SAP counters that "Oracle started this case without ever raising its concerns with SAP, apparently preferring instead to use the burden of tens of millions of dollars of discovery expense and the attendant distraction to aid its ongoing competition with SAP."

The legal drama, uncertainty and notoriety have not helped TomorrowNow's prospects as a viable company. SAP put TomorrowNow on the block in late 2007, and it had an operating loss of approximately $35 million in 2007.

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