IP Service Provider Questel Acquires MultiLing in ‘Highly Competitive’ Process

Paris-based Questel announced the acquisition of MultiLing, the Utah-based language service provider (LSP) focused on translations in the intellectual property (IP) sector. Rémi Duval, Questel’s Digital Manager, told Slator the transaction closed on September 28, 2018 and Questel acquired 100% ownership in the LSP.

Questel, led by CEO Charles Besson, is a provider of IP information and management software and services. The company, a former division of France Telecom spun off in 2001, offers clients IP Business Intelligence software allowing research and analysis of patents, trademarks and designs, an IP Asset Management platform as well as international filing administrative services. In May 2018, London-based private equity firm IK Investment Partners took a substantial minority stake in Questel.

MultiLing, headquartered in Provo, near Utah’s state capital Salt Lake City, was founded in 1988 and is led by CEO Michael Sneddon. In 2013, MultiLing received a USD 10.3m minority equity investment from Frontier Capital, a Charlotte, North Carolina-based private equity firm.

MultiLing Brand to Stay

While the purchase price was not disclosed, Duval told Slator that Questel paid “somewhere around 10x earnings”, which is broadly in line with recent significant transactions such as SDL’s acquisition of Donnelley Language Solutions. The deal was financed through a mix of equity and debt.

According to Duval, the company projects Questel’s 2018 revenue at EUR 55m (USD 63m), while MultiLing is expected to generate EUR 35m (USD 40m), bringing the combined company’s pro-forma 2018 revenues to EUR 90m (USD 104m).

Michael Sneddon will join Questel’s board and remain CEO of MultiLing. Duval said the LSP will continue to operate under the MultiLing brand.

After Language Connect sold to UK e-commerce company The Hut in July this year, Questel’s acquisition marks the second sizeable transaction in 2018 where a strategic buyer from outside the language industry acquires an LSP.

New to Translation

Questel had no translation operations prior to the acquisition. Its core business is in IP software and services centered around the Orbit suite of products for IP Business Intelligence and Intellectual Asset Management. The company considers its main competitors to be Clarivate Analytics (a Thomson Reuters spin-off), CPA Global, and Anaqua.

In language services, competitors in the IP space include London-listed RWS and New York-based Morningside Translations.

Acquiring a language service provider makes sense for Questel, according to Duval, because the company is a leader in international patent filing services and each filing requires translation. The acquisition will allow Questel to integrate more deeply with customers, increase quality, and offer better prices, Duval said.

Questel sees ever improving neural machine translation as an opportunity to “help improve quality and [offer] lower prices [while maintaining] margins”, according to Duval.

Highly Competitive Process

Asked whether there was any particular reason why he elected to sell to a non-language services company or language industry focused investor, MultiLing CEO Sneddon told Slator: “MultiLing made the decision a couple decades ago to focus on IP translations. Questel had a clear strategy for the IP space that aligned with ours. Thus, partnering with Questel was a natural extension of our strategy to penetrate deeply the IP services market by adding additional IP services and product offerings.”

Sneddon added: “MultiLing was the only remaining, independent global IP translation company. To Questel’s credit, it understood early on and better than all other suitors, the value that MultiLing brought to the table and ultimately prevailed in a highly competitive process.”

MultiLing was advised by Chin Pandya from investment bank Houlihan Lokey. Capzanine was Questel’s bank in the transaction.

Image Credit: European Patent Office