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Systran Wins Copyright Verdict
Posted by Donald A. DePalma on December 21, 2010  in the following blogs: Technology, Translation and Localization
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Our discussions with clients about legal issues usually revolve around everyday things like service level agreements, terms and conditions, and translation jobs arriving in large banker's boxes. This week's legal discussion was different -- after a European Union court found in favor of language technology provider Systran in a long-running legal battle. We spoke with CEO Dimitris Sabatakakis about the case.

The General Court of the European Union awarded machine translation (MT) developer Systran €12.1 million in a judgment against the European Commission (E.C.). What happened was that Systran's Luxembourg business unit had customized a version of the company's Unix-based MT server for the E.C. between December 1997 and March 2002. In October 2003, the E.C. decided to upgrade several components of its Systran-developed technology, called EC-Systran Unix, but issued a general tender for the work. Systran objected to the possibility of the work being done by a third party and let the E.C. know that it considered the work to infringe on its intellectual property (IP) by unlawfully disclosing its know-how. The E.C. took the position that Systran had not established its rights to the EC-Systran Unix system despite the fact that it had been buying MT software from Systran for 35 years. The two parties couldn't agree on a settlement, so the claim went to the General Court.

Last week, the Court decided that the E.C. had no right to disclose the company's know-how to a third party, and that it infringes on Systran's IP. It awarded €12.1 million in damages. Of that, €7 million represented the license fees that the E.C. would have paid the company between 2004 and 2010 had it recognized Systran's IP. Another €5 million was awarded as compensatory damages for the impact that the E.C.'s conduct might have had on Systran's annual revenue and "more widely on the development of that company." Finally, the company received another €1,000 compensation for non-material damage.

What does CEO Sabatakakis think about the decision? Not surprisingly, he told us that, "I am very pleased with the decision. It is especially encouraging in that the General Court found the European Commission guilty of violating the copyright law that it had written. It demonstrates that the law applies to everyone, even to the people who write those laws." Referencing the US$1.3 billion judgment for Oracle against SAP in a U.S. copyright infringement case earlier this year, Sabatakakis said that "these cases reinforce the principle that software companies own the result of their labor. We should not have had to fight for seven years to prove that software that we've been selling to a customer for 35 years is our own creation."

We’re aware of other legal battles underway at the moment regarding intellectual property in the language industry. As the sector matures, companies are stepping up to the plate to protect the fruits of their labor. Word to the wise – read your contracts closely.


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