Developing translation software? How safe is it? Reflections on the Google-IBM patent deal

Google Patents

In recent news, Google bought a portfolio of over 1,000 patents from IBM. While some of the patents seem to have little to do with any of Google’s businesses, industry analysts are saying that Google found the need to stockpile patents for future rainy days when smartphone lawsuits will roam the earth.

It is sad that companies feel the need to arm themselves with legalities to compete in the business world. It sounds more like war than business. But that got me to start thinking, is the translation industry prone to similar legal warfare? If you or your company are developing software in the area of translation, how likely is it that you will be litigated for infringement of intellectual property? Should you make yourself aware of registered patents in the field before embarking on a costly development program?

The short answer to this is: YES! For example, there are several hundred US patents in the area of Post-Editing Machine Translation. Several hundred! There are hundreds, possibly thousands of patents in the area of machine translation software. And there are patents in almost every related area you can imagine. So if your company is developing a product that will become a huge commercial success, it is a distinct possibility that some of the patent holders will try to get a piece of your action if they can. And why not? There are lawyers that live for this kind of thing.

The adage Look Before you Leap is probably sound advice for software developers in the translation business.

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