From Brexit to Brazil: Language Industry Stories You May Have Missed in 2016

The motley section of the Slator website is Industry News, where we feature a diverse array of language industry news stories that go beyond the more narrow focus of categories like M&A and Funding, People Moves, Technology, or Demand Drivers. From policy shifts in government, private sector reorganizations, to legal battles, this is our recap of issues that made their mark under the Industry News category.

Things looked good in Germany in 2016. Revenues for the “translation and interpretation” category were up more than 18%, according to the country’s Federal Statistical Office (Destatis). The number of jobs in the industry was also on the rise.

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In Canada, the picture was more mixed. Canada’s Translation Bureau took the flak for a number of moves, such as downsizing the Translation Bureau’s workforce, as well as rolling out a homegrown machine translation tool called Portage and a vetting system to favor low-bid freelancers.

Apparently, the Canadian Association of Professional Employees (CAPE) was not pleased with how Public Services and Procurement Minister Judy Foote handled criticism over Portage. The system was slammed for being poor, particularly in handling translations into French, which account for over 85% of government translations. 

Another interesting development was the ATC (Association of Translation Companies) blasting the UK government for procurement failures. The trade organization said it represents the majority of leading language service providers (LSPs) in the UK and argued that too many LSPs were struggling to break even when taking on public contracts. Trouble also found the UK Home Office, which had to fend off a boycott from freelance interpreters over the proposed ending of contracts.

Across the pond, the US Patent and Trademark Office settled a dispute over the correct translation of a web site. The office originally denied the request of bajatuseguro.com, ruling that it was “merely descriptive” of the service because the phrase could translate into “lower your insurance.” However,  applicant Salvador Cababie argued successfully that the phrase can also mean “download our insurance,” which the court ruled was different enough to be worthy of a patent.

TransPerfect Saga

TransPerfect  is in a seemingly unending legal battle that will drag on into 2017. Most recently the Delaware Supreme Court, where co-CEO Phil Shawe is appealing a lower court ruling, set a hearing for January 18, 2017. A ruling can be expected within 90 days from the oral argument. If the lower court’s ruling is upheld, Shawe told Slator he will seek to take the case to the Supreme Court of the United States.

This came after what was described as an “extremely unusual” lawsuit brought by Timothy Holland, TransPerfect Director of Corporate Strategy. The suit cited first amendment and due process violations, although experts said it had little chance of blocking a court-ordered auction of the company. 

To get a better perspective on what is to come from TransPerfect we followed-up on the saga’s twists and turns with two exclusive interviews of co-founders Liz Elting and Phil Shawe.

Through the Cracks

While there were a number of large stories, there were also multiple developments that were a significant part of our language industry coverage. Here are some highlights from a year when Slator occasionally peeked through the cracks to cover the news you may have missed.

  • 21 different language service providers (LSPs) made this year’s Inc. 5000 list. The ranking looks at revenue growth over a three-year period.
  • The red-hot tech category of natural language processing (NLP) encouraged HVAC manufacturer Nortek to acquire NLP platform Nuiku for an undisclosed amount in June.
  • A US Court of Appeals ruled in April that a law enforcement officer in the state of Florida performed a legal search when using the iTranslate app to translate instructions into Spanish. The officer used the app to gain consent to search a vehicle, after which he found numerous items that had been illegally obtained.
  • Jeff Bezos’ The Washington Post ramped up its translation efforts as part of its efforts to focus on growing a digital audience. The company reportedly has 19.5 million international readers, which account for “one of the fastest-growing segments of the Post’s audience,” according to a staffer.
  • Air Canada took some heat for its language choices. Canada’s Commissioner of Official Languages Graham Fraser said the airline should “offer more French Services.” He argued that because the airline was originally built with public funds, materials should better reflect the dual-language tradition of Canada.

SDL’s Transformation

SDL finished off the year with its SDL Connect conference in November. The Palo Alto, California event featured workshops and presentations with the goal of reassuring the company’s client base that SDL’s days in social intelligence and campaign management are over. Instead, language services and technology are, once again, front and center.

CEO Adolfo Hernandez, who came aboard as head of the company this year, said various segments of the organization need to operate less independently from one another. The internal consolidation is a key priority, which Hernandez described as a “massive transformation.”

Politics and Regulators

The language industry is, by nature, a global enterprise. Much of the industry had to take a serious look at Europe when British voters approved Brexit in June.

Many experts felt the language services industry would not suffer too significantly post-Brexit. However, the industry will be keeping an eye on how negotiations turn out, particularly when it comes to the EU’s “free movement of people.” It has been a key advantage for UK-based language businesses, Gary Muddyman, Managing Director and CEO at life science LSP Conversis told Slator.

The European Commission ruled that certified translations of public documents are no longer needed when moving between EU member countries. In Germany, an interpreter crisis got national attention. In Brazil, sworn translators need not have been concerned about losing their relevance with a new Apostille system, which stems from an international system for document certification. However,  a government official said translations would still be needed by the current staff.

Update: An earlier version of this article implied the Delaware Supreme Court will make a final ruling on January 18, 2017. In fact, that is the date of the hearing with a ruling expected 90 days from the hearing.

Derek Walter

Freelance writer in northern California, writes primarily about technology for various sites, and author of Learning MIT App Inventor