Oracle of morality?

The software giant's lawsuit against SAP is surprising.

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By  Peter Branton Published  March 29, 2007

Oracle chief Larry Ellison has - to put it mildly - a reputation for playing hardball in business. In 2000, when quizzed on his company's tactics of using private detectives to sift through garbage to discover evidence of links between Microsoft and advocacy groups supporting it, he was unrepentant.

"Maybe our investigation organisation may have done things unsavoury, but it's not illegal," he told reporters, adding that he would have had no problems with Microsoft doing the same. "I'm prepared to ship our garbage to Redmond and they can go through it," he said at the time.

All of which may make last week's announcement by Oracle that it has filed a lawsuit against its rival SAP, accusing it of engaging in various computer abuses, seem a little surprising.

The German firm has previously taken the moral high ground in the battle between the two companies over control of the applications market, portraying itself as the more trustworthy and credible supplier.

SAP has said it will "aggressively defend" itself against the allegations, with SAP CEO Henning Kagermann this week insisting that the firm respects "others' intellectual property".

However, Oracle's strike is a telling blow: the firm has compiled a 43-page document detailing its allegations of computer fraud. The case seems certain to end in court, and criminal charges could follow if it is felt there is substance in Oracle's claims, industry watchers warned this week.

But would a computer firm really be foolish enough to use its own servers and networks to engage in corporate espionage, as Oracle's suit alleges? Certainly, it does seem a little surprising that SAP would not have made a better effort of covering its tracks.

Such a case inevitably attracts major headlines in the business and trade press; if Oracle's case does not amount to garbage, we may see more things being aired.

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