Using Salesforce to access SAP? Pour yourself a stiff drink


The week after a U.K. court favored SAP in a $70 million licensing dispute, the software developer took another brewery to arbitration in the U.S., this time seeking damages of more than $600 million.

The disputes—both are ongoing—bode ill for companies using platforms such as to indirectly access data held in SAP systems subject to named-user licensing.

“SAP investors may welcome this litigation, but it’s yet one more reason why new customers are fleeing to the hills, choosing Amazon Web Services or Google, where they can, for their future software needs,” said Robin Fry, legal director at software licensing consultancy Cerno Professional Services. “Why choose SAP if, despite being a loyal customer and careful attempts at compliance, there’s a real risk that they might bring a gun at your head or force you to restate your earnings down the line?”

The , a British company that brews beer and distills whisky around the world. SAP accused it of allowing staff to use a system to indirectly access data in an SAP database without the requisite named-user licenses. The judge accepted SAP’s argument that even indirect access to its software required a license, but has not yet ruled on the amount due. SAP wants an additional £54,503,578—around $70 million, or about as much as Diageo already paid for the 12 years for which license fees are in dispute.

 and an AB Inbev representative has to access data in its SAP system through Salesforce. 

Executives took no questions about software licensing in a conference call to discuss the company’s first-quarter results today.

However, AB Inbev spokeswoman Kathleen Van Boxelaer said, “We intend to defend against SAP’s asserted claims vigorously. It would be inappropriate for us to further comment as the litigation is ongoing.”

That reticence is understandable. “Software under-licensing—with its undertones of software theft—is incredibly sensitive for public companies,” said Cerno’s Fry.

Although AB Inbev likely is not happy with SAP’s claims, it’s likely that it prefers the confidentiality of arbitration, Fry noted. “A decision to go to arbitration means that, unlike proceedings in open court, the award—and all supporting documents—can be kept confidential. AB Inbev will definitely want this,” he said.

Fry has a theory about why the damages SAP is seeking are so high. “SAP’s massive claim almost certainly rests on being able to show that AB Inbev infringed copyright by it being under-licensed as opposed to simply having to pay under an existing license agreement,” he said. U.S. law allows for statutory damages in cases of intellectual property infringement, but not for simple contract breaches, he said, allowing higher penalties to be imposed at arbitration.

SAP’s policy is not to comment on pending matters such as this, a spokesman said.