Still getting used to his new job, HP's new CEO, Leo Apotheker, may testify in a trial between former employer SAP and rival Oracle, a development that has also ignited a war of words in The New York Times.
Apotheker, who was appointed chief executive of Hewlett-Packard on September 30 to replace the embattled Mark Hurd, appears on witness lists shared between the legal representatives for Oracle and SAP, according to The Wall Street Journal (subscription required).
The two companies have been battling each other in court for more than three years over a lawsuit in which Oracle has claimed copyright infringement by SAP subsidiary TomorrowNow.
TomorrowNow, which provided updates and support for certain Oracle products before SAP shut it down in 2008, was accused of improperly downloading certain Oracle software code and support information. SAP has acknowledged the charge and admitted responsibility but has balked at Oracle's price tag of $1 billion or more in damages.
During his lengthy career at SAP, Apotheker served in executive roles before taking over as CEO for a brief period.
Beyond triggering his upcoming court appearance as a witness, any involvement Apotheker may have in the SAP-Oracle-TomorrowNow affair prompted a recent column from New York Times writer Joe Nocera in which he minced no words about HP. Nocera chastised HP's board for what he saw as its hypocrisy in getting rid of Hurd for his indiscretions but hiring Apotheker when he may have committed a more serious crime at SAP.
Among some of the quotes in Nocera's column: "It takes your breath away, really: the same board that viewed Mr. Hurd's minor expense account shenanigans as intolerable has chosen as its new C.E.O. someone involved -- however tangentially -- with the most serious business crime you can commit."
Responding to Nocera's piece, HP's incoming chairman, Ray Lane, fired off a letter to the Times, quoted by All Things Digital's Kara Swisher in her column yesterday. In his letter, Lane defended Apotheker, saying that TomorrowNow was never under Apotheker's supervision, the actions by TomorrowNow happened before Apotheker became CEO of SAP, and Apotheker was the one who closed TomorrowNow.
Lane further speculated that Apotheker being named to the witness list for the lawsuit didn't happen until he took over the reins at HP. As Swisher points out, Lane at one time was a president at Oracle.
"Oracle has been litigating this case for years and has never offered any evidence that Mr. Apotheker was involved," Lane wrote. "It didn't even deem him relevant enough to the case to include him on a list of witnesses for trial--until, that is, Mr. Apotheker was named CEO of HP and Oracle had other motives to try to tie him to the case."
Amid this war of words, the actual trial between Oracle and SAP starts in California on November 1.