Technology Company in Silicon Valley Applies for a Patent

If you’d been following @localization on Twitter, you’d know it was announced days ago that Facebook has applied for a patent (in the U.S.) called “Community Translation On A Social Network” (this was covered on the Baltimore Sun’s Tech Blog before anywhere else.)

The details, filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, aim to patent the much-vaunted social network translation process we hear so much about: where Facebook “volunteers” contribute freely-provided translations, which are then “voted” on as being appropriate or not. The filing states:


Embodiments of the invention provide techniques for translating text in a social network. In one embodiment translations of text phrases are received from members of the social network. These text phrases include content displayed in a social networking system, such as content from social networking objects. A particular member is provided with content including a text phrase in a first language, and the member requests translation into another language. Responsive to this request, a translation of the text phrase is selected from a set of available translations. The selection is based on actions by friends of the member in the social network, the actions being associated with the set of available translations. These actions can the viewing of or approval of translations by the friends, for example. The selected translation is then presented to the member requesting the translation.

(I admit being familiar with some of this kind of language, although lawyers were paid to explain it.)

This development would seem to offer a great deal of potential to not only extend the debate about crowdsourced translation, to whom the benefits really accrue, at what cost to others, and so on, but to ask the question “where will this all end up?” Except that a linkedinfail-style debate hasn’t ignited (yet.) Facebook, although wrong-footing the pundits very badly on this, is really doing what anyone else in the business (and it is a business) would attempt to do, so such a patent application isn’t surprising. It’s what tech companies do all the time, and why wouldn’t Facebook want to try and “own” a core global user engagement process like this? Amazon, after all, made a science out of it (and nice profits after a bit.)

However, Facebook is not alone in the social networking space (and the filing is specifically for “social networks”) using the approach for translation, but that’ll be a “prior art” issue that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office will need to examine.

All I can say – as the pursuer of a patent application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office myself – is these things can take years to conclude – even if the patent is to be awarded eventually.

Personally, I think this patent application will eventually fail, but yet again Facebook has made its translation process a headline event in even trying (nothing wrong with that.) You may have an opinion on all this, so until we hear from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, we’d like to read it …

Ultan Ó Broin
Ultan Ó Broin (@localization), is an independent UX consultant. With three decades of UX and L10n experience and outreach, he specializes in helping people ensure their global digital transformation makes sense culturally and also reflects how users behave locally. Any views expressed are his own. Especially the ones you agree with.

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