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IBM and Lionbridge Cooperate on Machine Translation
Posted by Donald A. DePalma, Benjamin B. Sargent on April 22, 2010  in the following blogs: Translation and Localization
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Lionbridge today announced an agreement with IBM that will provide access to machine translation software, share patents for language technology, and partner on larger enterprise deals involving language.

According to Lionbridge CEO Rory Cowan:
  • A technology licensing agreement gives Lionbridge exclusive commercialization rights to IBM’s RTTS (Real-Time Translation Server) for SaaS deployments. Lionbridge will make RTTS available through its Translation Workspace. The full integration of IBM’s machine translation (MT) engine with Lionbridge’s shared translation memory in the cloud is planned to take a year, although some clients will beta the combined offering sooner.

  • A patent sharing agreement provides each company with access to the other’s language technology patents, thus allowing both firms to develop products without fear of tripping over each other’s intellectual property.  IBM and Lionbridge are also discussing joint development opportunities of language technology products. The deal is similar to IBM’s deal with Nuance for speech technology, the result of a 2008 decision to license technology from IBM's research labs.

  • Lionbridge will become the preferred deployment partner for language integration in IBM customer environments. Under the terms of this agreement, IBM will bring Lionbridge in for service engagements for data modeling of multilingual content and MT engine customization.
This agreement brings Lionbridge into the forefront of the machine translation business. While the company has long offered post-edited MT using its own Barcelona technology (through its 2005 acquisition of Bowne) and SYSTRAN, until now the company has taken a low-key approach to the rising interest in the technology.

It also brings IBM's decades-long investment in MT to a broader market, something that IBM itself chose not to do. Cowan said that Lionbridge will evangelize its newfound MT technology into accounts that require immediate turnaround of translations that are "good enough" or usable for their target readers. He flagged mobility, ubiquity, and millisecond immediacy as requirements for "mutual comprehension" in applications such as e-mails, FAQs, and product inquiries. The company will continue offering human translation services for mission-critical needs that characterize its historical and current workload. The IBM RTTS capability introduces Lionbridge into an emerging class of global real-time communication challenges.

A few things struck us about the announcement:
  • For MT to cross the proverbial chasm to broader adoption, provisioning and customization have to get much easier, faster, and less expensive. Lionbridge inherits a rich set of application programming interfaces and expertise from IBM's investment to date, so we'll look for rapid innovation to match the current investment of commercial MT suppliers to improve their tool offerings.

  • Many of the potential uses of MT represent "blue ocean" opportunities.  In other words, the content, communities, and customer interactions are not addressed by today’s language solutions. Reaching these new buyers means prying open some new budgets, a challenge for traditional sales teams.  Lionbridge and its first adopters will bet on increased market share to provide the return on investment that justifies new spending.
Why should businesses care?  In a post-mass marketing world, where brands are made and lost on social media chat boards, companies need to increase proximity and intimacy with their customers in every way they can. Real-time communication that eliminates the language barrier is one way companies can become more responsive, drive positive experiences, and better hear the voice of the customer.


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