Oracle CEO mulled expansion into smartphones

Associated Press Modified: April 17, 2012 at 4:00 pm •  Published: April 17, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Oracle CEO Larry Ellison wanted to compete against Google's Android software in the smartphone market before deciding instead to sue his potential rival for copyright and patent infringement.

Ellison acknowledged Oracle's interest in diversifying beyond its main business of database software while testifying Tuesday on the second day of a trial pitting two high-tech bellwethers.

Before backing off the idea, Ellison said Oracle considered buying a smartphone maker, including Palm Inc. and BlackBerry maker Research in Motion Ltd. Palm ended up getting sold to Hewlett-Packard Co. for about $1 billion two years ago, while RIM is trying to recover from huge losses that have piled up as the BlackBerry got battered by Apple Inc.'s iPhone and handsets running on Android.

"I had an idea that we could enter the smartphone business and compete with everyone in the smartphone business," Ellison testified under questioning from a Google lawyer. "It was an idea I wanted to explore. We explored it and decided it was a bad idea."

Ellison, a colorful CEO who ranks among the world's richest people, took the stand after Google sought in opening statements to frame the case as Oracle's response to its own failure to build mobile software.

Google CEO Larry Page also took the stand toward the end of Tuesday's session. The trial was expected to last up to 10 weeks.

The dispute before a 12-person jury in U.S. District Court in San Francisco is over whether Google built its widely used Android software by improperly taking some of the technology from Java, a programming platform that Sun Microsystems began developing 20 years ago. Oracle acquired the rights to Java when it bought Sun for $7.3 billion in January 2010.

Although Oracle has spent more money buying other companies, Ellison depicted Java as the company's most cherished prize.

"Of all the things we have ever purchased, by far the most important we ever purchased was Java," Ellison crowed during his roughly 80-minute appearance on the witness stand.

Ellison is renowned for making bombastic statements like that.

There were other times during his testimony, though, when he looked slightly bamboozled. At one point, Google lawyer Robert Van Nest reminded Ellison about all the nice things that he had to say about Android and Google during an onstage appearance in 2009, when Oracle was still awaiting regulatory approval to buy Sun.

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