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Business software maker BEA Systems Inc tries to make rival Oracle Corp raise its current bid

Business software maker BEA Systems Inc. demands at least $21 per share in an effort to prod rival Oracle Corp. into raising its current bid by $1.5 billion (1.05 billion EUR).

BEA's maneuver is the latest step in a mating dance that could end within the next few days or drag on for several months.

The object of Oracle's desire is BEA's so-called "middleware" - computer coding that helps business software applications interact with databases. Redwood Shores-based Oracle has been buying scores of smaller software makers during the past three years to add more applications and build upon its leadership in the database market.

Hoping to add another notch on its acquisition belt, Oracle earlier this month made an unsolicited $17-per-share offer that values BEA at about $6.7 billion (4.68 billion EUR).

BEA quickly rejected that bid as inadequate, but its board hadn't indicated how much it thought the San Jose-based company is worth until Thursday. The $21-per-share asking price values BEA at about $8.2 billion (5.73 billion EUR).

Investors didn't agree with BEA's self-appraisal, reflecting Wall Street's belief that the company is unlikely to fetch much more than Oracle has already offered. BEA shares rose by 9 cents to $17.64 during Thursday's afternoon trading.

Oracle declined to comment Thursday, but has previously said it believes its $6.7 billion (4.68 billion EUR) bid for BEA is "generous." Earlier this week, Oracle said it will retract the offer unless BEA accepts it by Sunday evening.

Pacific Crest Securities analyst Brendan Barnicle doubts Oracle will change its mind before Sunday's deadline, but that does not mean the drama will end. He expects Oracle to revive its bid again after BEA realizes it is unlikely to fetch $21 per share - a level its stock hasn't reached in nearly six years.

Prolonging the takeover saga could actually help Oracle by fostering uncertainty among BEA's 15,000 customers and 3,800 employees - a development that conceivably would hurt BEA's sales and push the company's stock price below the current level.

"From Oracle's perspective, it doesn't cost them anything to keep making bids and then retracting them," Barnicle said. "But that could become quite a distraction for BEA."

A cloud already hangs over BEA because of its mishandling of employee stock options. The mess has prevented BEA from meeting regulatory deadlines to file quarterly and annual financial statements, threatening the company's listing on the Nasdaq Stock Market.

Oracle's plans could change if another bidder emerges for BEA. When Oracle first pounced, several analysts said SAP AG, IBM Corp. or Hewlett-Packard Co. might be interested enough in BEA's products to submit a competing offer.

But Germany-based SAP has taken itself out of the running because it already has most of the same products as BEA, said company spokesman Saswato Das. Spokesmen for IBM and HP declined to comment Thursday.

Some analysts think IBM is unlikely to bid for BEA because it would have to clear more antitrust hurdles than Oracle.

By opening its negotiating door, BEA's board may at least have appeased one of its largest shareholders, billionaire investor Carl Icahn. Wielding his 13.2 percent stake in the company, Icahn earlier this month urged BEA to seek more than Oracle offered.

Icahn didn't return phone calls Thursday.