MotionPoint and TransPerfect are battling over seven software patents in the market, patent office, and courts. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office reexamined patents awarded to MotionPoint. This week the case moves back to the U.S. District Court (case number CV 10-02590. The outcome of this litigation will have broad implications for computer-aided translation (CAT) (see “The Attack of the TMS Patents,” Dec11). At issue are four patents held by MotionPoint and three by TransPerfect, with each company claiming infringement by the other of the more than 200 claims made in these filings:
- MotionPoint’s patents (US7580960, US7584216, US7627479, and US7627817, filed in 2004 and awarded in 2009) detail a method for crawling a website, identifying content to be translated, and substituting translated material for the source. These patents describe a “localization proxy server,” the heart of MotionPoint’s Transmotion offering and One-Link Deployment process, TransPerfect’s GlobalLink OneLink, and products from other vendors such as Smartling. TransPerfect also holds a proxy server patent, US6857022 filed in 2000 and granted in 2005 to Worldlingo (acquired by TransPerfect in 2011).
- TransPerfect’s patents (US6526426, filed in 1999 and granted in 2003; and US7207005 applied for in 2002 and awarded in 2007) claim to have invented a translation management system (TMS) and business rules server, technology sold by dozens of suppliers (see “TMS Live!,” Jan12).
The problem as we see it is that neither MotionPoint nor TransPerfect was first to bring these innovations to market. Localization proxy servers, TMS products, and rule servers premiered in the late 1990s as a new wave of entrepreneurs entered the CAT market. Until then, desktop translation memory and terminology databases were the most common tools used to automate the process of rendering words from one language to another.
Let’s look at the history of a few of these software inventions. Six years before MotionPoint and two years before Worldlingo filed their patents, Idiom (now part of SDL) incorporated a localization proxy server in WorldServer. It intercepted foreign-language visitor requests for web pages, reviewed the content, and returned a page in the appropriate language. One component crawled a site and collected all the text to be translated, another module supported the translator, and a third was the proxy server used by visitors in real time to view the site in translated form.
According to Idiom's developers, the idea behind its WorldServer proxy server was to support localization with little additional burden on the website team. In 1998, that basically meant an early version of offsite software-as-a-service. When we first spoke with MotionPoint executives in 2007, we observed the similarity of the company’s technology to the 1998-vintage Idiom Localization Proxy Server. Idiom wasn’t alone in its offering, as companies such as Lionbridge, LogoVista, and Worldlingo each offered some form of crawling proxy server and synchronized translation memory.
In 1999 Idiom superseded its proxy server with an implementation of WorldServer that looks more like today’s TMS solutions with integral translation memory and terminology, workflow, process management, a rules server, connectors for several website and content management systems, and an application programming interface. That was the year that a company subsequently acquired by TransPerfect filed for its TMS patent.
Why is this case so important? If the court favors either litigant, the victor could make claims against other suppliers in the marketplace. This could have far-reaching effects on these sectors, their developers, and their customers:
- If either company prevails with the proxy server patents, it could file suits against companies using that technology, from firms such as Assima (né WizArt), Dakwak, Google Translate, LinguaNext, Smartling, SYSTRAN, and other instances of the first generation from the 1990s.
- If TransPerfect wins on the TMS front, it could take action against other software developers, some of which predate them in the market, such as SDL (Idiom) and Welocalize (the owner of GlobalSight). LSPs that build their own TMS tools could find that their work violates these patents (see “Build vs. Buy along the S-Curve for TMS,” Dec11).
What’s our verdict? The issue of prior art – that is, the existence of previous instances of this type of software – should determine the outcome of this case. As the market has evolved, MotionPoint and TransPerfect are just two of many developers that leveraged the fast-evolving technology of 1998 to 2002 as they implemented translation management, rules servers, and localization proxy server software. So did many other companies. Victory for either one of these litigants could unleash an attack of patent trolls on the CAT sector (see “Patents Pending and Granted for Translation Automation,” Oct11). This important but still evolving sector provides an essential collection of tools for global companies and small businesses alike. The sector needs innovation, not lawsuits over mistakenly issued patents.