Two multibillionaires – former collaborators turned bitter rivals – ar…

Two multibillionaires – former collaborators turned bitter rivals – are lining up for a legal battle over the future of what claims to be the world’s longest-running trophy in sport, the America’s Cup.

The San Francisco-based Oracle computer software chief executive officer Larry Ellison, through the Golden Gate Yacht Club, has lodged a petition in the New York Supreme Court claiming that the Swiss pharmaceuticals mogul Ernesto Bertarelli and the Société Nautique de Genève have broken the terms of a deed of gift, governing the cup, which was written in 1887.

Bertarelli took the cup away from New Zealand in 2003 and persuaded Ellison to back a new event protocol, which was supposed to bring the cup into a new era. He then annoyed Ellison by grabbing unwelcome levels of control before successfully defending the cup earlier this month, against New Zealand in Valencia. Bertarelli then persuaded his Spanish challengers to hand over even more control.

Ellison said that the Spanish challenge was invalid and issued his own. He was ignored. He then instructed the law firm Latham and Watkins to ask the New York courts, which have jurisdiction because the original deed was written by the New York Yacht Club, to take action.

Latham and Watkins’ San Diego office acted against New Zealand’s Sir Michael Fay in what led to the 1988 “big boat versus catamaran” fiasco. Ellison’s challenge would be for a 90ft-long boat to challenge in just 10 months’ time. His challenge also makes the yacht 90ft wide, indicating a catamaran again. What Ellison really wants, however, is to lever Bertarelli into negotiations.

Ellison’s timing is uncomfortable because the mayor of Valencia, Rita Barbera, is due to announce on Wednesday that the next cup will take place there in July 2009, alongside the first running of a Formula One race which will include the America’s Cup port in the street track.

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