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Informix says Oracle is "sleazy"

The database company alleges that chief rival and market leader Oracle stole trade secrets and engaged in unfair competition.

No love has ever been lost between database makers Informix Software (IFMX) and Oracle (ORCL). But Informix is really mad now.

The company has charged its chief rival and market leader Oracle with alleged theft of trade secrets.

Oracle recently hired 11 members of Informix's product development laboratory based in Portland, Oregon, where the civil suit was filed. The Informix complaint charges Oracle and a former Informix employee with theft of trade secrets and unfair competition.

Informix chairman and CEO Phil White characterized the Oracle move as a "sleazy, blatant act."

"I want to stop Oracle from doing this sleazy kind of stuff," White said in an interview. "I'm serious about this."

The 11 former Informix employees in question left their Portland, Oregon, research and development lab en masse on Wednesday, according to White. "They're pretty na?ve," the CEO said. "They don't understand intellectual property."

White is particularly incensed because the group was working on Informix's massively parallel XPS database, a next-generation product for clustered server environments. "They could go over to Oracle and do for them what they've done for us," he said, alluding to his claim that Informix has a technological advantage over Oracle in this arena. Oracle still has not come out with its next-generation Oracle 8 database product, which is slated to introduce comparable technology.

The former Informix employee named in the suit, Gary Kelley, was a vice president in Informix's product development organization before he resigned. He is charged with breach of contract, breach of fiduciary responsibility, unfair competition, and misappropriation of trade secrets.

Kelley was the architect of the Informix massively parallel system and recently started looking at the company's next-generation technology. White said Kelley was probably the instigator in the mass exodus.

Oracle officials said the engineering crew from Informix was, in fact, shopping themselves around to Oracle and other database vendors including Microsoft because team members were frustrated with high-level Informix executives.

"The bottom line is this is a real condemnation of Informix's vision," said Jerry Held, Oracle's senior vice president for server technologies. "These employees voted with their feet."

Held said Oracle has years of experience in parallel processing software and does not need to pilfer from Informix. "We have superior technology," Held said. "The facts are simple and speak for themselves."

The exchange of allegations typify a heated battle between the two database software makers, as Informix tries to gain marketshare at Oracle's expense. There is also a long history of defections to competitors in the computer industry. But White said this was different because it involved an entire research and development crew.

He added that he even personally called and stopped by Oracle CEO Larry Ellison's house, but was told the flamboyant executive was in Hong Kong.

"Everyone takes one or two people, that's part of the industry," White said. "You don't take teams."

A preliminary hearing is scheduled for February 7.