November 26, 2010, 10:48 AM — The $1.3 billion in damages assessed Tuesday by a federal jury against German business software vendor SAP for stealing intellectual property from database giant Oracle could be reduced by the presiding judge, Phyllis Hamilton, who still has to formally affirm the verdict.
It's happened before, according to this Business Insider article:
Juries are known for occasionally levying huge fines in intellectual property cases, but a lot of those verdicts are later reversed or the fines reduced, or the companies end up reaching a separate settlement out of court.
That's undoubtedly true, as Matt Rosoff cites several cases involving Microsoft losing patent infringement cases, only to see the verdict thrown out and a retrial ordered. So anything could happen.
But we're not arguing about guilt in this trial. SAP long ago acknowledged that its now-defunct TomorrowNow subsidiary was blatantly ripping off Oracle software. The trial was all about how much SAP should owe in damages.
The amount awarded by the jury was far less than the more than $4 billion that Oracle CEO Larry Ellison thought SAP should pay, and it even was less than the $1.7 billion that Oracle's damages expert said the German software company should owe.
But it certainly is far more than the $40 million or so SAP thought it should pay for stealing copyrighted material from Oracle. SAP has been lowballing the damages all along and, according to Bloomberg, has set aside only $160 million for the case.
I wasn't in the courtroom and I didn't see all the evidence that the jury saw, but I'm having a hard time trying to figure out on what basis Hamilton would throw out the verdict or dramatically reduce the damages amount. That this was the largest ever damages award for copyright infringement, as Bloomberg writes, shouldn't be a consideration. Something has to be largest.
But going back to the mid-'90s, when I thought O.J. Simpson would be convicted in his murder trial, I haven't had a good record predicting legal matters. So don't run out and make any bets based on what I say.
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.