Hewlett-Packard's tumultuous breakup with its former chief executive Mark V. Hurd may soon warrant its own reality TV show.
The latest installment arrived on Tuesday, as H.P. filed a lawsuit in the Superior Court of California in Santa Clara against Mr. Hurd. The suit accused Mr. Hurd of violating his severance agreement to protect H.P.'s confidential information by taking a job as co-president of Oracle, an H.P. rival and partner.
H.P. filed its complaint less than a day after Mr. Hurd joined Oracle and gained a seat on the board.
"In his new positions, Hurd will be in a situation in which he cannot perform his duties for Oracle without necessarily using and disclosing H.P.'s trade secrets and confidential information to others," H.P. said in its lawsuit.
Representatives of Mr. Hurd declined to comment.
But Oracle had some well chosen words. "By filing this vindictive lawsuit against Oracle and Mark Hurd, the H.P. board is acting with utter disregard for that partnership, our joint customers, and their own shareholders and employees," Lawrence J. Ellison, Oracle's chief executive, said in a statement. "The H.P. board is making it virtually impossible for Oracle and H.P. to continue to cooperate and work together in the I.T. marketplace." Historically, H.P. and Oracle have been among the closest partners in Silicon Valley. H.P. sells billions of dollars a year of servers that run Oracle's database software.
Lawyers said that California law did not appear to favor H.P. in the case against Mr. Hurd.
He does not have a noncompete agreement with H.P., the company said, and in any event, California shies away from noncompete agreements. And so H.P. is left with pursuing trade secret disclosure claims against him.
"H.P. is taking the position that there is going to be the inevitable disclosure of secrets by virtue of the position that Mark Hurd has at Oracle," said Larry C. Drapkin, a partner at Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp, who handles trade secret cases.
"The difficulty here is that California has not embraced the so-called inevitable disclosure doctrine," he said, meaning that the state courts would be hesitant to rule on whether Mr. Hurd was likely to disclose trade secrets.
Mr. Drapkin said that H.P. might be using the lawsuit to send a signal to Mr. Hurd, saying it was watching him closely.
Mr. Hurd resigned from H.P. a month ago, after the company's board grew concerned about his relationship with Jodie Fisher, a marketing contractor who had worked at events with important customers.
Ms. Fisher, a 50-year-old former actress in racy films who also posed for Playboy when she was in college, accused Mr. Hurd of sexual harassment in a complaint sent to H.P. The company's investigation into the complaint revealed no evidence of sexual harassment but raised questions about Mr. Hurd's judgment, according to H.P.
Mr. Hurd authorized large payments to Ms. Fisher, who had limited marketing experience, and her name was omitted from expense report filings covering meals the two had together.
Relations among Mr. Hurd, H.P. and Oracle have declined rapidly. In the weeks after his resignation, Mr. Hurd and H.P. have engaged in a feud over the situation through proxies.
Mr. Ellison joined in the dispute early on, offering his support for Mr. Hurd and criticism of H.P.'s board last month in an e-mail message to The New York Times. Mr. Ellison chided H.P.'s board for making "the worst personnel decision since the idiots on the Apple board fired Steve Jobs many years ago."
On Monday, Mr. Hurd joined Safra A. Catz as a co-president of Oracle, while Charles E. Phillips Jr. resigned as co-president and a member of Oracle's board.
Oracle recently acquired Sun Microsystems, a longtime rival to H.P. in the hardware market, setting the stage for a more complicated relationship. Mr. Hurd's hiring has just upped the ante, industry experts said.
"Clearly, Larry Ellison has his eyes on some of H.P.'s business now," said William W. George, a professor of management practices at the Harvard Business School. "This often happens in high-tech as companies look to expand their horizons."
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