HP & Oracle case: follow the money

Litigation over intangible assets — especially proprietary information and IP — is a fact of corporate life. But sometimes it is hard to know if intangibles are really the issue or just the pretext. A perfect example was yesterday’s settlement of the HP – Oracle case on Mark Hurd. As you may remember, HP sued Oracle and Hurd when Hurd (former HP CEO) took a top job at Oracle. HP claimed that Hurd would bring valuable proprietary information over to Oracle.
According to the New York Times:

in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Monday, H.P. said it had modified its separation agreement with Mr. Hurd. He effectively waived about half the compensation owed him. Mr. Hurd agreed to give up his rights to the 330,177 performance-based restricted stock units granted to him on Jan. 17, 2008, and to the 15,853 time-based restricted stock units granted on Dec. 11, 2009.

Was it all just about the money — punishing Hurd by forcing him to give back some of his severance? Or was HP really interested in guarding their intangible assets? Or some combination – where the size of the give back was calculated to the potential damage?
We will probably never know. But my guess is that given the difficulty HP probably would have had pursuing the case, the protection of intangibles was secondary to the money.

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