The Oracle v. SAP trial commenced this week. After more than three years of legal wrangling and public pronouncements, and way too many briefs, motions and hearings, the case now sits before a judge and jury in Northern California.
I’m no lawyer (and I didn’t stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night), but this much we do know: SAP’s former division TomorrowNow did, indeed, do some naughty stuff with Oracle’s software (a.k.a. “theft of Oracle intellectual property”); that some SAP executives knew said naughty stuff was happening (a.k.a. “contributory infringement”); and that SAP is willing to pay “millions” to make the case go away (a.k.a. “punitive damages”).
The fact that SAP no longer contests most of Oracle’s damning allegations should make SAP’s standing all the more egregious and its limited defense all the more suspect. The facts are the facts: SAP is the villain, and Oracle is the victim.
And yet it just doesn’t feel that way.
In the court of public of opinion (a dubious metric, I know), Oracle almost always seems like the villain—even when it’s not. (Can you even imagine the outrage aimed at CEO Larry Ellison and Oracle if the roles were reversed in this case? The Ellison ire would make the Devil green with envy.)
SAP should be getting eviscerated by anyone who’s closely following the case. Its previous senior management as well as the new management, who were a part of SAP during the entire span of this case, should be getting ripped to shreds for allowing TomorrowNow to do what it did.
On the other hand, Oracle and CEO Ellison should be receiving tons of sympathy, for they are on the side of the high and mighty in this instance. They have been wronged.
But again, there’s a dearth of articles and letters to the editor rallying around Oracle and its cause.
There are several reasons: First, Larry Ellison & Co. do not play the part of the “victim” well. The mere act may be a sign of weakness, and Oracle’s corporate history shows that this vendor displays only strength, resolve and cut-throat ambition.
Second: SAP laid down its sword and bowed in submission to Oracle long ago, in essence asking for mercy and pledging penance; in return, Oracle has attacked, thirsty for more blood, and chosen to humiliate SAP even more. (Even going after SAP’s former CEO with some bizarre methods.)
Third, as the case has progressed and more internal documents and communications have been made public, we’ve gotten a glimpse of the Oracle culture that was regaled (and feared) in the hushed tones of private conversations.
For example, there’s the now infamous e-mail by Oracle executive Juan Jones regarding Toyota’s maintenance fees. “Let the bastards dream of reducing their maintenance fees,” Jones wrote. “I just finished telling Toyota that we’re not going to reduce their bill. Not only that, but they need to buy more software from us!”
The lack of love for Oracle’s leader, even from its own customers, also contributes to the negative perception of the company. At the trial, an e-mail written by former Oracle co-president Charles Phillips states that an executive at customer Amgen “does not like Larry,” and that Amgen was likely to switch to SAP software, according to a MarketWatch article.
It’s all but certain that jurors in this case don’t have a clue about third-party maintenance. And why would they? (One juror said her knowledge of courtrooms came from watching “Judge Judy” on TV.)
But it appears that some do know one thing about the case: They don’t like Larry Ellison.
During jury selection, several jurors told the judge that they had a “negative opinion” of Ellison. Granted, the trial is taking place in an Oakland, Calif., courtroom, which is some 30 miles away from Oracle HQ.
But still, who among the general public selected for jury duty actually knows what the typical software company is or does, let alone have an opinion on its CEO? (Unless that company and its leaders were chiefly known for being “bastards” themselves.)
That, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, tells you something very important: Even when Oracle wins, it still finds a way to lose.
Thomas Wailgum covers Enterprise Software, Data Management and Personal Productivity Apps for CIO.com. Follow him on Twitter @twailgum. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline. E-mail Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org.