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(Reuters) – SAP AG will get its chance to take on Oracle Corp CEO Larry Ellison on Monday when he takes the stand as the U.S. software maker’s star witness in a high-profile software theft trial.

SAP, Europe’s largest software firm, has admitted to liability for theft of Oracle software files by a now-defunct subsidiary, TomorrowNow. They are fighting it out in a California courtroom to determine how much the German company should compensate its bigger American rival.

Ellison — famous for his no-holds-barred attacks on SAP — will get his chance to argue his case that the German company should stump up billions of dollars. But the flamboyant billionaire’s appearance on the stand also gives SAP a chance to interrogate its nemesis under oath.

One possible SAP cross-examination strategy would be to undermine his credibility by making Oracle’s quest for damages look like a personal vendetta, said Dechert partner Chris Scott Graham. The key will be for SAP’s lawyers to formulate their questions narrowly.

"The last thing you want to do on cross is give him a bully pulpit," Graham said on Friday.

Oracle President Safra Catz will also take the stand on Monday, according to a company spokeswoman. Catz rarely appears in public but she has been in court observing the trial.

In a prelude to that drama, Oracle’s leading attorney in the case spent over an hour on Friday grilling SAP Chief Financial Officer Werner Brandt about the executive board’s decision to buy Texas-based TomorrowNow in 2005.

Brandt testified in German through a translator, but broke into English several times as litigator David Boies hammered away at him with questions about when he knew TomorrowNow had infringed on Oracle’s copyrights.

Brandt said top SAP executives had no knowledge until after Oracle filed its lawsuit three and a half years ago. He further testified that SAP bought TomorrowNow to try to woo customers of two software brands that Oracle acquired in 2005: PeopleSoft and J.D. Edwards.

"We had a very clear goal in mind. That was to transfer and convert the J.D. Edwards and PeopleSoft customers to SAP," Brandt told the jury of eight men and women.

SAP has admitted TomorrowNow wrongly downloaded millions of software files from Oracle’s customer service website, but says its executives did not know of any wrongdoing when they bought the company in 2005. SAP shut TomorrowNow, which provided software maintenance services such as upgrades and bug fixes, after Oracle filed its lawsuit. [ID:nN03126903]

In 2005, SAP launched a marketing program dubbed "Safe Passage", through which it tried to persuade Oracle customers to switch over to SAP software. It offered discounted maintenance on existing Oracle products through TomorrowNow, then encouraged customers to gradually replace that software with SAP programs.

Brandt testified that SAP’s goal was to convert at least 50 percent of Oracle’s PeopleSoft and J.D. Edwards customers to SAP through Safe Passage.

(Reporting by Dan Levine and Jim Finkle; Editing by Gary Hill)