Saying 'sorry' can be hard

But not as hard as paying billions in damages for stealing software!

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The trial going on in a California courtroom since Nov. 1 to determine the amount of damages business software vendor SAP AG owes Oracle for copyright infringement ended abruptly Monday when SAP co-CEO Bill McDermott tearfully apologized for the theft, causing the database vendor's founder and chief executive Larry Ellison to blurt out, "That's all I ever wanted."

The two men then hugged and left the courtroom together to lunch on one of Ellison's yachts, the Hubris II, where HP chief executive Leo Apotheker recently has been spotted working in disguise as the world's oldest cabin boy.

(Also see: The nonsense about Leo Apotheker's 'listening tour')

Kidding! Well, not about the apology. That really happened, during McDermott's testimony in a federal courthouse in Oakland, Calif. Now in its third week, the trial will determine not culpability, but damages. SAP already has admitted to the theft by its now-defunct subsidiary, TomorrowNow.

But whereas Ellison thinks SAP should owe Oracle at least $4 billion -- Oracle's damage expert puts the price at $1.7 billion (and the guy still has a job?) -- SAP really, really, really hopes the apology will suffice. If not, then the German company might be willing to consider, say, $40 million or so and a less-heartfelt apology.

One of the highlights of the trial, of course, has been the absence of Hewlett-Packard's new CEO, Leo Apotheker, who was running SAP during at least part of the time TomorrowNow was ripping off Oracle. But Apotheker has been doing another kind of running since the beginning of the trial, dodging a subpoena Oracle wants to serve so it can drag him into courtroom for testimony about what he knew, and when.

Which leads to this interesting text message read out loud in court (from the Wall Street Journal):

In another electronic exchange, a TomorrowNow employee was quoted as writing, "I hope no one gets blamed for this. Everyone was just following orders from above."

I wonder what that means? If only Leo could spare a few moments away from his galley duties to fill us in.

Chris Nerney writes about the business side of technology market strategies and trends, legal issues, leadership changes, mergers, venture capital, IPOs and technology stocks. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisNerney.

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