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Richard Tanenbaum, a big fish in one of the financial world's little software ponds, has gotten a rude reminder about who really rules the ocean.
Richard Tanenbaum, a big fish in one of the financial world's little software ponds, has gotten a rude reminder about who really rules the ocean. Microsoft Corp. has accused Tanenbaum and his New Yorkbased systems boutique, Savvysoft, of violating one of its valued trademarks.
At issue is TurboExcel, a souped-up version of the Microsoft Excel spreadsheet that Savvysoft began marketing in June, just two months after Microsoft had applied for a trademark on Excel. In late September, Tanenbaum got a letter from Microsoft with a not-too-subtle ultimatum to change the name. Tanenbaum hasn't budged -- even though his lawyers at the Silicon Valley office of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius are telling him he's just asking to be sued.
"We like the name of our product," says a defiant Tanenbaum, 47, a former head of derivatives research at Bankers Trust who started Savvysoft in 1993 to develop Tanenbaum Option Pricing Software. (Known as TOPS, it now has 3,000 users worldwide.) He notes that Excel was on the market for 19 years and had become a ubiquitous financial analysis and trading tool before Microsoft applied for trademark protection.
He suspects that Microsoft is targeting TurboExcel -- which can accelerate the processing time for complex models and risk simulations by a factor of 300 -- because of its compatibility with the Linux operating system, a competitive threat to Microsoft's Windows. But according to William Ferron of Seed Intellectual Property Law Group in Seattle, who represents Microsoft, the beef is all about Savvysoft's use of "Excel," which implies that "the product is from or sponsored by Microsoft, which it is not."