HP Denies Trying to Sell Autonomy to SAP

HP spokespeople say the troubled software business is important to HP's future despite the $8.8 billion write-down and pending lawsuits.

Hewlett-Packard is pushing back on reports that it had tried to sell its troubled Autonomy software business to enterprise application vendor SAP.

The Times of London reported that SAP Co-CEO Bill McDermott said during an interview that his company had been approached by HP executives about buying Autonomy, the British-based company that HP bought for $11.3 billion in 2011. The tech giant took an $8.8 billion write-down on Autonomy in large part due to what officials said were accounting irregularities at the company in the run-up to the acquisition.

HP CEO Meg Whitman said last month during a press conference that Autonomy, whose software enables organizations to quickly search massive databases—an important capability in the big data era—is a key part of her company's future, and that she had no intentions of selling it.

According to The Times story, HP officials approached their SAP counterparts before Whitman's press conference. SAP—which has its own database search software in Hana—did not pursue the opportunity.

"We were aware that it was on the market at one time but were never seriously interested in Autonomy," McDermott was quoted as saying.

However, in a statement to journalists, HP spokespeople said that the company never shopped Autonomy, and that in fact, it was SAP that was hunting for software to buy.

"Contrary to reports in the media, HP has no interest is selling Autonomy," HP's statement reads. "During the past year, we've received inquiries from SAP about purchasing HP software assets, and time and again, we've said 'no.' We believe Autonomy will play an important role in HP's long-term strategy."

According to a report in AllThingsD, unnamed sources noted that HP is a big SAP customer, and Whitman and other HP executives regularly meet with McDermott and other SAP officials to discuss a variety of business topics. Any talk of Autonomy being sold apparently was very informal, with one source telling AllThingsD that "Autonomy was never shopped to SAP."

SAP spokesman Jim Dever, speaking to AllThingsD, also downplayed The Times' report, noting that while McDermott does say that he was aware that Autonomy was on the market, he never said anything about having talks with HP or that SAP was approached by HP.

Autonomy has been a problem for HP since it was bought during Leo Apotheker's brief tenure as HP CEO. Apotheker—the former CEO of SAP—spent 11 months in the top spot at HP, but was forced to resign and Whitman succeeded him.

HP has accused Autonomy executives of playing with the company's financial numbers before the deal with HP was closed, an accusation that Autonomy founder and CEO Mike Lynch has disputed. Lynch has said that HP's problems were caused by its mishandling of Autonomy after the sale.

The issues surrounding the deal and the subsequent write-down have fueled several shareholder lawsuits against HP. Most recently, a group of shareholders filed a $1 billion lawsuit, claiming that HP executives and board members failed to do proper due diligence in investigating Autonomy before the deal was made.

They also claim that Whitman, then-board Chairman Ray Lane and others knew about the problems at Autonomy before the acquisition closed, and while they at one time tried to back out of it, let the deal go through anyway.