By Paul Sandle
LONDON (Reuters) - Oracle and Autonomy escalated their war of words on Thursday, sparring publicly over whether the British software firm had ever been shopped to the U.S. technology giant.
Autonomy, which Hewlett-Packard this year agreed to buy for $12 billion, is at the center of a debate on Wall Street over the tenure of fired HP CEO Leo Apotheker and the future direction of the company he once ran.
The spat comes at an inopportune time for HP, fighting to salvage its reputation with investors.
The acquisition -- which Apotheker spearheaded before his ouster this month -- has alienated Wall Street because of its steep price tag. It remains a sensitive topic, with new CEO Meg Whitman touting it as integral to a software expansion but critics saying it did little for the core business.
Ellison -- an outspoken billionaire CEO who never shies from a fight -- appeared to touch a nerve last week when he told investors during an earnings conference call that Oracle had been pitched a sale during an April meeting but walked away because the company, with a $6 billion market value at the time, was priced "absurdly high."
Autonomy CEO Mike Lynch -- no shrinking violet himself -- denied in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that a pitch had taken place. Oracle then said it could produce power-point slides to show that a pitch had indeed been made. Silicon Valley dealmaker Frank Quattrone -- who has arranged some of the largest technology deals in recent years -- was present, Oracle said in a statement.
But Lynch then again disputed the U.S. software giant's claims, saying a meeting had occurred but a sale had never been discussed, just "database technologies."
"CEO Lynch insists that it was a purely technical meeting," Oracle said late Wednesday. "Interesting, but not true.
SLIDES, FOR SHOW
"We have put Mike Lynch's PowerPoint slide sales-pitch up on the Oracle website -- Oracle.com/PleaseBuyAutonomy -- with the hope Mike Lynch will recognize his slides, his memory will be restored, and he will recall what he and Frank Quattrone discussed during their visit to Oracle last April."
On Thursday, Lynch and Quattrone said those slides were a separate matter.
"The slides Oracle posted publicly were sent by me to Mark Hurd in January, were prepared by Qatalyst and were for the purpose of our independently pitching Autonomy as an idea to Oracle," Quattrone said in a statement. "These slides were not used in our April meeting with Mark and Doug."
Ellison has frequently attacked HP and Apotheker since the board ousted his longtime friend Hurd in August 2010 after a sexual harassment investigation. Hurd was hired to become Oracle's co-President, and both Lynch and Oracle say he was at the April meeting with Quattrone.
(Reporting by Paul Sandle; Editing by David Hulmes, Gary Hill)