The courts have become an important force in the tech industry, reaching back to the infamous Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) antitrust proceedings of the aughts with a recent highlight (or lowlight, depending on your perspective) in the thrilling conclusion of Intel (Nasdaq: INTC ) vs. Advanced Micro Devices (NYSE: AMD ) . Now it's Oracle's turn to profit from the grinding gears of justice at the expense of interloper SAP.
Oracle is suing SAP in Californian courts over claims of industrial espionage. The suit was filed in 2007, when Oracle accused a SAP subsidiary of downloading Oracle-owned software and documentation and then putting them to illegal use to support SAP's customers. In a somewhat unusual turn of events, SAP is not denying the charges, and has in fact shut down the offending operation. But Oracle wants more than $1 billion in damages, while SAP insists that there's no more than "tens of millions" at stake. It is, in other words, on.
The truth, as always, probably lies somewhere in between the two extremes. But if the courts come down with a verdict anywhere close to $1 billion, the case will make a major impact on both companies. Oracle's $8.3 billion of operating cash flow dwarfs SAP's $4.3 billion. (Neither one can hold a candle to IBM (NYSE: IBM ) , where the company poured out $20.8 billion of operating cash flow last year.)
Will the windfall be significant to Oracle's already overflowing coffers, or will SAP provide mere pocket change to the database giant? In my view, the charges are serious but SAP's offending and now defunct subsidiary couldn't have stolen anywhere near as much support business from Oracle as the plaintiff claims. If I'm right, this will end up no more than a slap on SAP's wrist and a lengthy distraction.
But I'm not a lawyer, and I could be wrong. Ponder the implications in the comments box below.