Mar 23, 2007 (08:03 PM EDT)
Oracle Cries 'Thief'

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And we thought we'd heard the last of pretexting accusations.

Oracle makes that charge against its archrival, claiming in a civil lawsuit filed last week that SAP employees pretended to be Oracle customers to log on to one of the company's Web sites and copy proprietary technical and customer-support data. Describing SAP's actions as "corporate theft on a grand scale," Oracle claims that SAP gathered the support documentation to provide cut-rate support for Oracle products, then shift those companies to SAP products.

SAP declined to comment beyond saying it would "aggressively defend against the claims made by Oracle."

The case throws fuel on one of the most heated rivalries in all of business technology. It also raises questions about how valuable customer service and support data is and how well it's protected.

The logons of major Oracle customers such as Bear Stearns, Honeywell, Merck, Metro Machine, and SPX allegedly were used to take the documents. Oracle claims that when those logons were used, the companies all had become or were about to become customers of SAP's Oracle support service, known as SAP TN.

The TN stands for TomorrowNow, a provider of PeopleSoft software support services that had 37 employees when SAP acquired it in 2005. SAP touted the company in a "Safe Passage" program aimed at supporting PeopleSoft customers and, it hoped, transitioning them to SAP business software.

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Oracle's complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, doesn't use the dry legalese typically found in such documents. Instead, it reads as a broadside at its longtime competitor. That's the tone CEO Larry Ellison has set ever since Oracle acquired PeopleSoft in 2005, pitting Oracle in a one-on-one battle with SAP for enterprise software market share.

The suit notes that questions were raised in 2005 about how SAP TN, even after expanding to 150 employees, could keep up with the bug fixes, patches, regulatory updates, and other manually intensive tasks needed to support the software. "Oracle has now solved this puzzle," the complaint says. "To stave off the mounting competitive threat from Oracle, SAP unlawfully accessed and copied Oracle's software and support materials."

SAFE ENOUGH?

If these customer-support assets are among Oracle's crown jewels, the company didn't keep them under the best lock and key.

In some cases, real customer names were used to access information on products for which those customers had licenses. But in other cases, intruders posing as customers with legitimate logons were able to blow past the security perimeter and access information and code to which the legitimate customer had no license. In other cases, the companies had already switched to SAP TN, the Oracle complaint says, but their logons apparently still were active.