Oracles SAP Lawsuit: The ISV Protests Too Much, Methinks

Opinion: Oracle's lawsuit accuses SAP of "corporate theft on a grand scale." So what was stolen? Support material freely available to any of thousands of Oracle customers. These are the super-secret corporate espionage documents that Or

Oracles lawsuit against SAP, although fascinating in its detailed tracking of who took what and when, is so much pure Oracle. This would be like Microsoft suing a small software company and accusing them—with great indignation—of not treating their partners with courtesy and respect.

Based on the full text of the accusation portion of the lawsuit, Oracle certainly seems to make a rock-solid case that tech support documents were downloaded by those without direct authorization. But we need to distinguish between someone hacking their way into a private R&D database and stealing under-development source code and someone looking at documents available to any and all customers, along the lines of—according to Oracles own lawsuit filing—"program updates, software updates, bug fixes, patches, custom solutions, and instructional documents across the entire PeopleSoft and JDE family of software products."

/zimages/3/28571.gifClick here to read the details about Oracles lawsuit against SAP.

Who is accused of having done these dastardly downloads of instructional documents? Yes, it was SAP, but specifically the TomorrowNow group, which provides third-party support for PeopleSoft and JD Edwards ERP applications, both of which are now owned by Oracle.

The documents in question would likely help this tech support unit better understand Oracle products and thereby be able to better help Oracles customers. Its hard to see how this is injuring Oracle customers.

Assuming the lawsuits representations are accurate—which is assuming quite a lot—it seems that one likely scenario of how this happened is that customers migrating away from Oracle and to SAP wanted SAP—and specifically TomorrowNow—to help make the transition easy. In an attempt to make that happen, they simply gave the SAP people their passwords to the Oracle database.

This would likely be seen as more of a convenience than some earth-shattering act of corporate espionage, akin to an e-commerce company giving an outside programmer log-in credentials to its Web host, so that the programmer could access whatever was needed.

Lets be fair here. Were the documents proprietary and legally protected? No doubt they were. Did some people at SAP get carried away and do more than was necessary to help those specific customers? If the accusations in the lawsuit are correct, yes, it seems likely they did.

But even examining this case solely from the Oracle perspective based only on the claims that Oracle is making, its hard to see this as some monumental case that threatens to cripple Oracle.

Indeed, the claim that the people accessing the data didnt even try to mask their IP addresses—and it stands to reason that many SAP people certainly would have had the knowledge and the wherewithal to do so—strongly suggests that the downloaders saw little wrong with what they were doing.

/zimages/3/28571.gifThe very survival of SAP could be at stake if Oracle is able to prove its charges. Click here to read John Pallattos column.

Thats not the action of a Megabyte Mata Hari, trying to steal code that theyll sell for millions on the black market. That sounds more like a tech support professional who sees a lot of tech support documents and files that he might have access to later on and should download now, just in case it will help a customer at some later date.

Please dont get me wrong. SAP and Oracle are very aggressive rivals and I wouldnt put it past either company to engage in true corporate espionage. But this doesnt feel like that. It feels like Oracle finding a technicality that it can say "Gotcha!" with.

Retail Center Editor Evan Schuman has tracked high-tech issues since 1987, has been opinionated long before that and doesnt plan to stop any time soon. He can be reached at

To read earlier retail technology opinion columns from Evan Schuman, please click here.

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