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Oracle's Larry Ellison Taunts HP's Ray Lane and Leo Apotheker

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, with an estimated net worth of $28 billion, is the third richest American and sixth richest in the world. Forbes ranks him behind Mukesh Ambani of India ($29 billion) and Lakshmi Mittal ($28.7 billion). Mittal is a citizen of India but lives in the UK.
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Oracle CEO Larry Ellison
Oracle CEO Larry Ellison
Dan Farber/CNET

In the tech industry's latest version of a World Wrestling Entertainment event, Oracle co-founder and CEO Larry Ellison dared Hewlett-Packard's board chairman and new CEO to testify in court over a suit that Oracle brought against SAP. 

Ellison issued a statement (see below) in which he maintained that the new HP CEO, Leo Apotheker, was knowledgeable about theft of Oracle's intellectual property while he was an executive at arch rival German software maker SAP.

The suit, filed in 2007, alleged that an SAP company, TomorrowNow, infringed on Oracle copyrights. In August, SAP proposed a quick end to the suit. SAP copped to the basic charges but disputed Oracle's claim that it suffered more than $1 billion in damages (see ZDNet's coverage for a more in-depth view). Oracle's lawyers apparently don't agree with SAP's request for a quick end to the litigation.

Ellison's stance on the Oracle-SAP lawsuit may be influenced by the recent executive shuffle that brought Apotheker to HP.

Ellison hired expelled HP CEO Mark Hurd as president of Oracle. HP sued Oracle for hiring Hurd, claiming the former CEO would be taking unfair advantage of his knowledge of the company, but that suit was quickly settled. Hurd gave up some HP compensation to resolve his new employment situation and the two companies went back to competing on the information technology battleground. 

Then HP tapped Apotheker as its CEO, replacing Hurd. In addition, HP named Ray Lane as its chairman. Lane was formerly a president and COO of Oracle, and worked directly for Ellison. When Apotheker was announced as HP CEO, Ellison said, HP had chosen "a guy who was recently fired because he did such a bad job of running SAP," and that the "HP board needs to resign en masse."

The Oracle-SAP trial is expected to begin Nov. 1, 2010, the same day that Apotheker begins his tenure at HP.

Following is the statement Ellison issued on Tuesday:

"A few weeks ago I accused HP's new CEO, Leo Apotheker, of overseeing an industrial espionage scheme centering on the repeated theft of massive amounts of Oracle's software. A major portion of this theft occurred while Mr. Apotheker was CEO of SAP. HP's Chairman, Ray Lane, immediately came to Mr. Apotheker's defense by writing a letter stating, 'Oracle has been litigating this case for years and has never offered any evidence that Mr. Apotheker was involved.' Well, that's what we are planning to do during the trial that starts next Monday.

Unless Mr. Lane and the rest of the HP Board of Directors decide to keep their new CEO far, far away from HP Headquarters until that trial is over. If HP keeps Leo Apotheker far from HP headquarters we cannot subpoena him to testify at that trial.

I don't think Ray Lane wants to risk Leo Apotheker testifying under oath as to why he allowed the theft of Oracle's property to continue for eight months after he was made sole CEO of SAP. I hope I'm wrong, but my guess is that HP's new chairman, Mr. Lane, will keep HP's new CEO, Mr. Apotheker, far, far away from the courthouse until this trial is over."

HP stated that Apotheker has "limited knowledge of and role in the matter," and described Oracle's behavior as an "effort to harass him and interfere with his duties and responsibilities as HP's CEO."

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    Dan has more than 20 years of journalism experience. He has served as editor in chief of CBSNews.com, CNET News, ZDNet, PC Week, and MacWeek.