Legal Issues

by Mike Masnick

Microsoft Discovers That Even Languages Have Intellectual Property Issues

from the no-translating-without-a-license dept

Intellectual property issues just keep getting odder and odder, and Microsoft (who is certainly no stranger to extreme intellectual property ownership claims) may now be facing two separate challenges having to do with languages. The first is over in South Korea, where the company is potentially facing an injunction after a firm claims a patent over switching computer input mode between Korean and English, as is found in Microsoft's Office suite. However, much more bizarre is the lawsuit the company is facing down in Chile where Microsoft dared to offer a version of its software in the Mapuzugun language used by about 400,000 indigenous Chileans without first getting the permission of Mapuche tribal leaders. The tribal leaders are claiming that this is "intellectual piracy," though that seems like a rather difficult stance to defend legally. Either way, it suggests just how far the concept of "intellectual property" is permeating, and just how ridiculous the situations that result from its spread are. Once you start claiming "ownership" of ideas or concepts (or languages), it opens up a whole new world of problems.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    bryannn, Nov 27th, 2006 @ 11:25am

    Well if they don't ship it in Mapuzugun how will the people in Chile use it? Great go tribe leaders, really looking out for their tribe!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 27th, 2006 @ 11:29am

    Maybe the really are looking out for their people. Get 'em all on Linux first. :P

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 27th, 2006 @ 11:35am


    why have software in your language when you can have software in your language and also cold cash license fees?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Bill Wiseman, Nov 27th, 2006 @ 11:37am

    Even the tribes in Chile have ambulance chasers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    squeeg, Nov 27th, 2006 @ 11:42am

    I guess their language isn't open-source

    So basically, the Chilean tribal leaders charge any newcomer (or new native child) to learn this special language, right? I doubt it. While I cannot bash a company for shielding their people from the "bowel movement" that is Microsoft, you cannot claim intel. property over a language. Language is a tool that should be free to everyone, not used by third-world governments to scam innocent little companies out of their hard-earned capital.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Christopher Mercer, Nov 27th, 2006 @ 12:00pm

    Getting paid to pay

    I see how this works. Sue Microsoft for encroaching in their IP rights, then use the money from the windfall to pay for the product.

    How else are they going to afford a bloated and ineffective product?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    charlie Vogel, Nov 27th, 2006 @ 12:34pm

    A case for int. property rights to a language

    I'm not a big fan of current copyright and patent laws, because I think they more often than not, hinder innovation, and enrich lawyers and corporations that pour their resources into copyr./patent filing & litigation rather than R & D. I think languages are tricky. For instance, computer programming code and even operating systems might be considered languages. And in the case stated in this article, they possesed a language that may have been known by only .5 million people. that could have some value, or they could have a good reason why they would not want their language so easily accessible by outsiders. I do find it hard to believe that Microsoft would go through the trouble of including a tribal language in a translation program without the cooperation of the tribal leadership. But then again it is Microsoft.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Alex, Nov 27th, 2006 @ 12:45pm

    Just watch...

    Microsoft is going to lose because they're the BBEG, and then they're going to remove the language from their OS, and then the tribal leaders are just going to turn around and be like "Microsoft is being [insert insult], not including our culturally rich language! My tribe cannot speak English! How can they use this product!"

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Keybored, Nov 27th, 2006 @ 12:50pm

    Tribal Law

    You'd think they would need tribal "partners" just to ensure the translations are correct. Anyway I agree with Bill, above. This is the case of an enthusiastic attorney, I doubt the "tribal leaders" even know about this.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    |3331373|3|_||3, Nov 27th, 2006 @ 1:50pm

    Note that in the OP, it says that this is just the "computer input mode" i.e the GUI, not the text input,as I understand it. THe translation need not be that good, after all, many of the terms used in computing in Enlish have different meanings to how they are used in standard English, or are used in different ways. Thus they are not really translating the text, and the only serious translation would be te user manual and the grammar rules, and I would be prepared to bet that they don't support grammar checking in Mapuchee, and the help files can hardly be described as easy for someone who is vaugely competent withthe use of computers to understand, even in Engliosh (you either have to be an over-exciteable kid who doesn' t undestand anything, or someone who does not need the help files anyway, to figure out WTF they ware going on about), so there tribals won't have a hope of understanding them. I would imagine that M$ are just doing this so they can boos the number of languages that Office 2k7 supports, by using a large number of closely related irrellevant languages.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Rick, Nov 27th, 2006 @ 1:56pm


    I hereby retroactively declare both copyright and patent on the english language.

    Anyone reading this and/or able to read this comment now owes me a licensing fee of $100. Renewal of your english license will be mandatory every 10 years, in perpetuity.

    Submit funds via paypal to:

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Nick Burns, Nov 27th, 2006 @ 2:25pm


    Send me your Paypal info so I can send you the licensing fees. Please don't sue me.

    Shotgun Spanish!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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