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11/3/2010
08:29 PM
Fritz Nelson
Fritz Nelson
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Oracle V. SAP: Courtroom Diary

The big dogs haven't howled, but there's been plenty of yapping and leg-lifting. Here are a few highlights and lowlights from the Oracle-SAP trial after two days.

SAP's flamboyant language. SAP counsel, Robert Mittelstaedt had me laughing a few times. For example, he said the billions that Oracle seems to be asking for was "based on fantasy." He said that Oracle attorney Geoffrey Howard's supposition that TomorrowNow and SAP could have negotiated a fair license price with Oracle long ago "speculative." He also referred to it as Oracle's "imaginary discussion."

He also fumbled what a CIO is -- he said "chief intellectual officer." He also referred to the products being discussed as "softwares." He kept talking about profits, rather than sales, or revenues. Maybe that's on purpose.

The Cast. No day-time drama gets by without some personalities. We're likely to see the major stars (Apotheker, Ellison, Phillips) Thursday and Friday, but here's the early cast:

Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Buffy Ransom heads up support for Oracle. Like all good Oracle execs, she's "on message." SAP counsel Scott Cowen had to whip out his best southern gentleman routine in pressing her pretty hard on a few issues, but Buffy's pretty slippery. At one point the head of all Oracle support (a major business that drives the company's $4b R&D) asked him what he meant by "third-party support."

Buffy: you're the first witness! Please tell me you know something about the trial.

The lawyers. Geoffrey Howard (Bingham McCutchen LLP) played lead counsel for Oracle. He's young, confident without being cocky, athletic and completely bald. There was a twinge of nervousness in his voice when he began his opening remarks. Oracle's top lawyer in this case is David Boies (he famously led the government's anti-trust case against Microsoft), but he was absent on Tuesday; Howard mentioned him and noted that the jury would be seeing more of Boies soon enough. I'm pretty certain the jury could care less, and that Howard was really talking to SAP.

Perhaps in homage to the hyperbolic langauge of Mittelstaedt, Howard, in talking about Oracle's big acquisition earlier this decade said: "If PeopleSoft was a seismic event, the Siebel acquisition was a tsunami." It's early days, Mr. Howard, let's not use up all the natural disasters just yet.

McDermott. Bill McDermott, co-CEO of SAP. Separated at birth: Pierce Brosnan. McDermott became part of SAP's executive board in 2008, long after all of the alleged shenanigans. We'll hear more from him at the trial, but let's hope -- for his sake, and SAP's -- that he is completely distanced from this. I assumed, watching him at the trial, that this was the case. He was very calm and joked with reporters and patiently took their questions, and nary a hair moved.

When asked about a possible settlement he smiled and said we're well past that, that SAP has "respect for the court system" and now it's "up to the jury." He talked about the company's growth in China, especially with its SaaS solution, Business ByDesign, how the company had its biggest quarter ever, and suggested that SAP planned to provide a SaaS suite that would be the industry's answer to SaaS point solutions.

When asked about the company's relationship with Oracle, he said "lots of our customers have Oracle database technology," and he was later seen talking to Oracle President Safra Katz. He also said that he's had no interaction with former SAP CEO Leo Apotheker, but "that's by design, no pun intended." When I asked McDermott whether a large settlement against SAP would impact SAP's ability to invest, his handlers quickly stepped in; for a moment I thought I saw McDermott sweat, but the former Under Armour director moved right along to the next question.

Shaken. Not stirred.

Skrevin. Edward Skrevin, the chief software architect for Oracle sounds like a character straight from Dickens, but on the stand he's part Rob Lowe complete with the semi-apologetic speaking cadence, and part Eddie Haskell. Possibly separated at birth. He played Oracle pitchman on the stand, describing the Oracle "stack" in all of its brilliance, touted the company's customer base by noting the 41,000 customers who converge on San Francisco for Oracle Open World, and talked amiably about key Oracle customers -- you know, school systems and National Marrow Donor. Kind, gentle Skrevin; kind, gentle Oracle.

Mr. Roper. SAP board member and the SAP AG CFO Werner Brandt was separated at birth from Mr. Roper. He may take the stand this week. I think they should play him in with a little "come-a-knock on our door ..."

Texas Titan. An Oracle star witness, John Ritchie, programmed Titan while working as the senior automation developer at Texas-based TomorrowNow. That program insidiously scraped and downloaded millions of files from Oracle's servers, sometimes crashing them because Titan worked like a denial of service attack (his comparison), pounding away at support documents. Ritchie's mullet would fit in well here.

Ritchie practically snickered as he did his "told you so" routine, revealing that he'd voiced his concerns about copyright infringement dozens of times, and was instructed to hide his tracks and not to discuss it. Or "find another job." Ritchie seems a bit like a victim in this, but truth be told if what he says is true he helped TomorrowNow commit fraud.

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