Oracle taps top attorney Boies for SAP suit

The "legendary" litigator could lead Oracle's trial strategy in the intellectual-property case

Oracle has brought in the big guns to assist in its intellectual-property lawsuit against rival applications vendor SAP, hiring attorney David Boies, well-known for his high-profile role prosecuting the U.S. government's landmark antitrust case against Microsoft.

The case dates to March 2007, when Oracle sued SAP and its one-time subsidiary, TomorrowNow, which provided lower-cost support for Oracle applications, claiming TomorrowNow workers had illegally downloaded software from its support systems. SAP has said the employees were authorized to download the materials on behalf of TomorrowNow customers, while also admitting some "inappropriate downloads" had occurred. But the information remained in TomorrowNow's systems, meaning SAP had no access to it, SAP said.

Oracle has said its damages could top US$1 billion.

A settlement conference in the matter is scheduled for September. But the introduction of Boies, known for his long track record as an in-courtroom litigator, may mean Oracle has lost interest in such a resolution and is instead gearing up for a trial, which is currently set for Nov. 1.

Boies could not immediately be reached for comment Friday. Oracle and SAP both declined to comment.

The attorney's role in the Microsoft case, where he served as a special trial counsel for the U.S. Department of Justice, was just one highlight in a career many legal industry observers have called legendary.

Boies represented former vice president Al Gore in the landmark case that ultimately upheld the outcome of the disputed 2000 U.S. presidential election in favor of George W. Bush.

More recently, Boies mounted a challenge along with fellow attorney Ted Olson -- whom he had faced in Bush vs. Gore -- against the 2008 California ballot initiative that overturned the rights of gays to marry. Closing arguments in the case were heard this week.

And this won't be the first time Boies has assisted Oracle CEO Larry Ellison. He has represented Ellison's yacht club in a dispute related to the America's Cup sailing competition.

Meanwhile, software industry observers are keenly interested in the outcome of the Oracle-SAP case, since it could dramatically influence the prospects of third-party software maintenance providers. These companies offer lower-priced services to customers who don't want upgrades, which are only available by maintaining pricier vendor-provided support.

One such firm, Rimini Street, was founded by Seth Ravin, co-founder of TomorrowNow. Oracle has sued Rimini Street in a separate action, claiming the company has continued TomorrowNow's "corrupt business model." Rimini Street maintains it has acted within its legal rights.

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris's e-mail address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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