Lock holding chain closure of green wooden doors

Patents, Copyrights, and Trademarks… Oh My!

You’ve worked hard to develop an innovative idea. The last thing you want is for someone else to steal your intellectual property or take credit for it themselves, whether it is your brand, an invention, a design, or any other creation.

When expanding your European business into North America, there are a number of options for protecting your intellectual property in the United States.


Patents protect inventions, including methods and apparatus implementing such methods.

Patented inventions must be novel, useful, and non-obvious, and the process of obtaining a patent from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is costly and time-consuming. Once approved, patents remain valid for 14 or 20 years, depending on the specific type of patent. Due to the necessity for uniqueness, it is important not to publicly disclose ideas that you intend to patent. If another inventor (individual or legal entity) applies for the patent before you do, you may lose your rights to the intellectual property.


Copyrights protect written or published works, such as books, songs, films, online content, and artistic works.

The good news is that such works are automatically protected by copyright, provided that they are original (no copies please!) and fixed over time. Copyrights do not need to be registered, but it may be a good idea to register yours anyway, depending on what your works entail. Registering a copyright establishes a public record of ownership and helps protect your rights in court.

If the owner is an individual, a copyright is valid for the life of the author plus 70 years. If the owner is a business or legal entity, a copyright is valid for 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation.


Trademarks protect signs, symbols, logos, words, or sounds that uniquely distinguish your products and services.

Trademarks must be registered in order to be protected, but that’s not enough. You must also actually use the trademark as intended in order to protect your ownership of it. Unlike patents and copyrights, there is no time limitation on trademarks. As long as you continue to use your registered trademark, it will remain yours.

Lawyers…. Who Needs ‘Em!

You do.

Sure, I can translate your patent from French or Spanish into US English, no problem. But when it comes to legal advice, you’d better hire an attorney in the United States who specializes in intellectual property.

An IP attorney can explain the details of the law, help prepare your patent application, help you register your copyright or trademark, and represent you in any disputes involving intellectual property protection or infringement.

Innovative markets move quickly. You need to keep up, while also maintaining a firm grip on protecting your intellectual property.

Intricate cables of the Brooklyn Bridge

Preparing Your Texts and Team for Translation Success

Whether you’re launching a brand new product or simply reaching out to an existing customer base, it is important to get your communications right the first time in all the languages of your markets.

There are certain steps you can follow to help your translation project go more smoothly:

Proofread your source text.

Take time to carefully proofread your original text. Correct any spelling and punctuation errors you find, and clear up anything that might be confusing or misleading to your readers or to your translators. These ambiguities can easily become amplified when translated into other languages, so it is best to clear them up now, rather than deal with misunderstandings down the road.

Plan ahead in your scheduling.

Quality translation takes time, so plan for it! As a rule of thumb, translators can translate about 2,500 words per day. However, we’re very busy and not always available to start working on your project right away. Also, plan a little extra time for any questions and context-based corrections that may arise after the initial translation is complete.

Provide editable file formats.

Translators can work with many different file formats. Generally speaking, it is best to provide texts in an editable file format, such as Word, PowerPoint, InDesign, HTML, etc. Non-editable formats, such as PDF, are troublesome and require considerably more effort, which means a slower and more costly translation for you.

Provide reference documents.

Professional translators are extremely resourceful, and we’re experts in our native language. That said, your company may have an established standard for how you communicate to your customers. This standard may take the form of a style guide, a glossary, or even simply a collection of similar texts you’ve produced in the past. The more you share with us, the easier it is for us to maintain consistency with your company voice.

Don’t be a stranger.

Be available to answer questions that arise during the translation process. Common questions involve clarifying an oddly worded sentence or explaining how a product or service works. This way, we can be sure to choose the best word or phrase for your text.

Read the finished translation.

This can be a tricky one. If possible, have someone review the translated texts. Of course, you yourself might not speak the target language, but if your company has an office in the target market, a monolingual employee at that office can read the text and confirm whether it is an accurate representation of your company’s message.

With these simple — yet important — steps, your translators will love working with you, and you can keep focusing on what you do best: innovation!

Quaint Boston intersection featuring architecture and fire escapes

Alternatives to Silicon Valley for Your North American Headquarters

Congratulations! You’re ready to establish the North American headquarters of your Europe-based business! But what city should you choose?

Silicon Valley is a natural choice. It’s filled with startups, but it’s SO EXPENSIVE! The same is can be said about New York City. Entrepreneurs need to consider a number of factors when selecting a location for their business, and cost is certainly one of them!

Thankfully, there are plenty of other attractive and more affordable cities that boast tons of tech talent and even have direct flights to and from Paris-CDG! Here are just a few of the stand-outs:


Atlanta, Georgia is enjoying lots of momentum these days, with a 21% growth in tech talent since 2010. Home of Georgia Tech and Vanderbilt University, Atlanta offers a low overall cost of living and a low cost of doing business.

Washington, DC

Known more for its lobbyists and politicians and crowded with government contractors, Washington offers loads of tech talent from its many local universities, including those in nearby Virginia and Maryland. With its prime mid-Atlantic location, Washington is home to several well-known educational companies, including Rosetta Stone and Blackboard.


No surprises here! Seattle makes this list because it is still more affordable than Silicon Valley and the Big Apple. Home to Amazon, Microsoft, Zillow, and many more tech companies, the downside to this city is that you may need to compete for talent. Each year, there is an estimated 3,000-person shortage in filling software development and engineering jobs, according to the Washington Technology Industry Association, so you’ll need to be ready to offer plenty of perks and an amazing company culture to woo prospective talent.


Home to the prestigious Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston ranks 3rd in startups and 5th in quality of life. It is also home to companies like TripAdvisor and iRobot. In terms of location, Boston is conveniently just a short drive or train ride from New York and a comfortable plane ride from Paris.


This North Carolina city is the tech hub of the Southeast. Its “Triangle” is home to a thriving startup community and tech scene. Raleigh also offers low taxes and a low cost of living, making it especially attractive to cash-strapped startup companies!


Located in Canada, just across the border from Seattle, Vancouver is the home of Hootsuite, as well as satellite offices of Facebook, Apple, and Twitter. Canada ranks among the highest standards of living in the world, easily attracting top talent, some formerly employed by Canada’s lost-but-not-forgotten export BlackBerry. Other great Canadian cities with direct flights from Paris-CDG are Toronto and French-speaking Montreal.

As you can see, North America offers lots of potential to European innovators seeking to grow! Good luck!

Close of medicine in capsule form

Penicillin… A Star Is Born (This Day In History – May 25, 1940)

On this date in 1940, Howard Florey and Ernst Chain of the University of Oxford injected eight lab mice with lethal doses of streptococci bacteria. They then administered penicillin to four of those mice. The next day, the four mice that received penicillin were healthy. The other four were dead.

The effect of mold in fighting bacteria was first discovered (by accident) by Alexander Fleming in 1928. Fleming had just returned to his laboratory after a month-long vacation with his family. Before he left, he was working with cultures of staphylococci bacteria, which he stacked and stored before leaving for vacation. When he returned, he found that one of his cultures contained a moldy substance, around which the staphylococci colonies had been destroyed. He wrote up his observations, but little attention was given to his paper until Florey and Chain began their work.

The first human trial took place the year after Florey and Chain’s experiment. In its sole subject, penicillin had immediate effect. The only problem was limited supply.

During World War II, Florey managed to convince some chemical companies in the United States to start mass-producing penicillin, in time to treat Allied troops invading Europe. Production soon increased, and production costs plummeted.

Fleming, Florey, and Chain were recognized for their achievement with the Nobel Prize in 1945.

Today, penicillin and other antibiotics are considered miracle drugs that save countless lives. In 2010 alone, more than 7.3 billion standard units of penicillin were consumed worldwide.

Portion of Austin, Texas skyline and its reflection in water

Strong Showing by French Startups at SXSW 2016

The annual South by Southwest Conference wrapped up just a few days ago in Austin, Texas, featuring music, films, and innovative technologies.

French startups were strongly represented at this year’s SXSW, with the following companies featured by Business France in the French Tech Pavilion (in alphabetical order):

  • Afrostream: streaming video service specializing in African and African-American content
  • Fretbay: transport services within the UK and Europe
  • Holi: innovative products for sleeping and waking
  • Hydrao: color-based water management solution to help limit water usage
  • Klaxoon: interactive quizzes, surveys, and other activities for groups
  • Lucie Labs: wristbands for interactivity with lighting
  • Prynt: an instant photo printer for smartphones
  • Qwant: a search engine with zero tracking of users and zero filtering of content
  • Reminiz: television recommendations and monetization solutions using facial recognition technology
  • Vodkaster: social network focused on movies and TV shows
  • WB Technologies: creates a beauty profile based on your skin to develop customized recommendations
  • Wizeandope: shoes with color-changing LEDs to match your outfit
  • wynd: simplifies shipping for individuals and businesses

True to the spirit of SXSW, France also contributed several artists to the music scene, as part of the France Rocks Showcase.

Old-fashioned rotary pay phone

Mr. Watson, Come Here (This Day In History – March 10, 1876)

We give very little thought these days to picking up a phone and calling anywhere in the world. Or texting. Or snapchatting. We are immensely connected to one another, a reality that has had monumental implications on our societies, economies, and more.

The world was entirely different just 140 years ago, when Alexander Graham Bell made the first ever telephone call to his assistant Thomas A. Watson, who was in the next room. (Couldn’t he just get up and walk over to his desk?!)

Bell, like several members of his family, devoted his life to the study of sound, specifically elocution, acoustics, and speech. His interest was motivated by the fact that both his mother and his wife were deaf.

In the years preceding Bell’s famous invention, telegraph communication was popular, consisting of tones transmitted via telegraph wire. However, it was clear that this form of communication would not suffice for long. From his laboratory in Boston, Bell went to work on developing a solution for transmitting sound via wire.

Initial experiments with transmitted sound produced promising, yet muffled results. To be effective, this technology would have to transmit the human voice clearly enough to be understood by someone on the receiving end.

As with many innovations, Bell was not the only inventor working to produce a feasible solution for transmitting vocal sound, but he was the first to patent the invention, issued on March 7, 1876, as U.S. patent #174,465, for “the method of, and apparatus for, transmitting vocal or other sounds telegraphically … by causing electrical undulations, similar in form to the vibrations of the air accompanying the said vocal or other sound.”

Three days later, he demonstrated a working prototype of the telephone, by calling his assistant Watson. He said, “Mr. Watson—Come here—I want to see you.”

And with that, the telephone was born!

(Curiously, Watson remembers the famous words slightly differently, as instead being “Mr. Watson – Come here – I want you,” so you could say that this was also the first game of telephone as well!)

Busy New York crosswalk at dusk

Voice! What Is It Good For? (Absolutely Everything)

The way you communicate to your customers is a direct extension of your brand. Think of it as your brand’s personality. Or rather, its voice.

Ideally, your company’s style guide should define how to express voice, in all your company’s languages, so that your message is consistent. This encompasses product marketing webpages, error messages, email correspondence, terms and conditions, and more. EVERY piece of written text produced by your company.

Brand = Voice x Words

Let’s start with your branding. Some companies have a highly formalized definition of their brand strategy, while others have more of a list of adjectives associated with their brand. What can customers expect from your products or services? What makes your company different from your competitors? Your brand identifies who you are, and it is reflected in your logo, your graphics, and how you conduct your business in general. Likewise, your voice reflects the characteristics of your brand.

To use my own business as an example, I have a clear, yet informal definition of my brand strategy. I describe my brand as “expressing confidence, innovation, energy, professionalism, a technical-focus, clear and effective work, reliability, expertise, and approachability, without being stuffy or overly formal”. This brand strategy affects the words and phrases I use on my website and in my interactions with clients. My voice reflects my brand.

The Audience Is Listening

Voice should also be tailored to the audience. People naturally develop trust toward others who are similar to them. Gain the trust of your audience by speaking to them in a voice they can relate to. What do they value? What shows them that your product or service is right for them? If you play your cards right, the voice you use to communicate with your customers can become a competitive advantage. When your voice is a good fit for your audience, they are more likely to continue coming back to you.

Are you using the right tone in the voice of your content? For example, software error messages and online help content often use an upbeat tone to lighten the mood. This is great, but be careful about using terms like “Simply…” and “…. is easy!”, which may inadvertently make your user feel stupid for not understanding something that is supposedly “simple” or “easy”.

Make It Official

Once you have a clear concept of your voice, document it in your company’s style guide. Here are some suggestions:

  • Will you use the 1st (we, our) and 2nd person (you, your) or stick with the more formal 3rd person (ABC Company)?
  • List certain words and phrases to be your go-to descriptors for your products and services.
  • Are there any words or phrases to avoid? Think about cultural taboos or even any words that may be closely associated with a competitor’s brand?
  • What kind of attitude do you want to convey?
  • How does your voice vary across different types of texts (ex. tone, formality, reading level, etc.)?

Defining your business’s voice is an important factor in maintaining the consistency of your brand message. By documenting your voice in your style guide, it’s easy to maintain that consistency as you bring on new writers and translators to grow your business.

Cave with caveman carving on the wall, superimposed by genetic strings

Did Neanderthals Use Complex Language?

In the early 2000s, the Human Genome Project was making headlines, with its ambitious endeavor to map the individual genes that make up the human genome. Geneticist J. Craig Venter, one of the driving forces behind the Human Genome Project, delivered the commencement speech at Georgetown University in 2002, the year I graduated in computational linguistics. I remember listening to him describe the daunting challenge of identifying the thousands of genes in the human genome. It was truly inspiring to hear his first-hand account of this major scientific achievement.

Talk about innovation!

Since that time, researchers have gained a tremendous understanding of human genes. They’ve even mapped the genomes of other animal species. Including Neanderthals.

When we think of Neanderthals, we think of primitive grunting cavemen who died out against the intellectually superior homo sapiens (us). Neanderthals were such… Neanderthals!

Or were they?? Evidence discovered in recent years suggests that Neanderthals may have had complex language after all, far from the grunts we give them credit for.

Neanderthals were such… Neanderthals! Or were they??

Firstly, DNA evidence paints a complex picture of the Neanderthals. (It’s way more than I can cover here, but look it up. Seriously. Or check out NOVA’s “Decoding Neanderthals” on Netflix or YouTube.) For one thing, Neanderthal DNA has the same FOXP2 gene as humans. This gene, colloquially known as the language gene, is what allows us humans to use language while other primates cannot. That’s a big deal.

Secondly, Neanderthal bones give credence to the theory of complex Neanderthal language. A Neanderthal skeleton discovered in 1989 has a hyoid bone positioned as in humans. The hyoid bone supports the root of the tongue when speaking. By contrast, the hyoid bone in non-human primates is positioned in such a way that it does not allow vocalized speech.

Lastly — and what I believe is the strongest evidence of complex language in Neanderthals — comes from the very recent discovery of interbreeding between Neanderthals and homo sapiens. Researchers have found that Neanderthal DNA makes up an average of 1-4% of the DNA of non-African modern humans.


This tells us that the interbreeding between Neanderthals and homo sapiens was extremely common at the time, at least in some parts of the world. Researchers suggest it went on for some 5,000 years. The Neanderthals didn’t go extinct; they were absorbed into our species!

Alright, so where does language play into this? Think about it. There had to be some communication involved. Ice-breakers. Relationships. Cheap pickup lines at caveman bars.


That point is…. Neanderthals were biologically equipped for language, just like us. Now, given the sociological factor of 5,000 years of interbreeding, it is entirely reasonable to believe that their language was every bit as rich as that of the homo sapiens of the time. To take it a step further, their languages were likely the SAME.

Open laptop surrounded by white coffee mug, succulent, and phone

Common Pitfalls in Technical Documentation

The purpose of technical communication is to instruct and explain. Understandably then, accuracy is paramount.

Yet subtle mistakes in writing quality can undermine the strength of your message. Readers naturally develop trust in companies whose technical documentation is rock solid. Likewise, they question the value of a company’s product when its technical documentation is poorly written or poorly translated.

Obviously, technical documentation should be free of spelling and punctuation errors. But let’s look at a couple of other common mistakes found in technical documentation:

Unnecessary Quotation Marks

I once worked for a woman who pronounced the word intranet with a elaborate stress on the middle syllable. In-TRAH-net. Every. Single. Time.

While it’s respectable that she wanted to say the right word, the overemphasis in her pronunciation reeked of uncertainty. Perhaps she misused the term once, was corrected, and vowed to never make that mistake again. To us, it sounded like she didn’t really know what our intranet was, only what someone told her to say about it.

In writing, the use of unnecessary quotation marks adds emphasis where it shouldn’t exist.

Nothing expresses a total lack of confidence like slapping a set of quotation marks around a technical term!

Bad: With XYZ Software, your data is kept secure in the “cloud”, where you can conveniently access it from anywhere.

Why the quotes?? Is cloud computing an unfamiliar concept? Did someone tell you to use the term, but you’re not comfortable with the meaning? Maybe XYZ Software is jumping on the bandwagon, without a firm grasp of their own technology?

Good: With XYZ Software, your data is kept secure in the cloud, where you can conveniently access it from anywhere.

This is much better. It exudes sureness, and readers can trust that XYZ Software knows what they’re talking about. So, skip the quotes for technical terms, product names, and trade show names. Quotes should only be used to denote exact words that were said or written.


Another common mistake I find in source language and translated technical documentation is inconsistent word use and capitalization. Like unnecessary quotation marks, these inconsistencies reflect poorly on the brand and product being described.

For example, in instructions on using a mobile app, don’t use tap and press interchangeably. Pick one and stick with it!

Another example is capitalization, particularly in proper names containing one or more uppercase letters in the middle of the name. Think PayPal, which is so often incorrectly written as Paypal, even by otherwise respectable companies. It’s simply wrong, and people notice. You wouldn’t write AirBus or MicroSoft. Proper capitalization matters! It reflects your company and its knowledge of the industry.

These inconsistencies and others can be avoided by implementing a style guide to define standards for spelling, punctuation, formatting, and word use.

Companies with documentation in multiple languages should have a style guide for each language. TechWhirl offers some great tips on building a style guide.

Last Word

Remember, your technical documentation is a direct reflection of your company in all the languages of your customers. Aim for excellence!

Black pager device

The Rise and Fall of Wearable Tech

We’ve witnessed some very high profile product launches in recent years, touting the next big thing in wearable tech.

Yet time and again, they’ve failed to catch on among consumers.

Wearable tech seems like the next logical step for our digital-minded society. So why do they amount to little more than passing fads?

To explore this further, let’s look at two categories of wearable tech: continuous wear and limited scope.

Wearable Tech for Continuous Wear

This category consists of the wearable tech designed for continuous wear by consumers. Examples include smart watches, Google Glass, and Fitbit. These products attract immense curiosity when they are launched and may enjoy significant sales. The true test, however, is whether consumers actually wear the devices as they were designed.

Unfortunately, I can’t point to any exact figures on the extent to which these forms of wearable tech have actually been adapted into everyday life, but as a casual observer, I’d say it’s pretty low. Smart watches are on par with the calculator watches of the 1980s. Google Glass is impractical. And Fitbit trackers have the longevity of a gym membership purchased on New Years Day.

The benefits promised by these products are simply underwhelming. They lack true standalone innovation and frequently require proximity with a smartphone.

Wearable Tech with a Limited Scope

These forms of wearable tech have a limited scope. They are not meant to be worn all day, but rather only for a particular event or situation.

One good example is the GoPro mounted camera, which has a limited use not easily met by any other means. GoPro cameras are often worn to film action-packed events, like skydiving or skiing. They are also gaining popularity among police officers for on-the-job wear.

Another example of limited-scope wearable tech is the Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset for consumer use. Unlike GoPro, this technology is too new to judge in terms of long-term popularity.

Pagers: The Peak of Wearable Tech for Continuous Wear

Wait… seriously? Pagers?

In a time when cellphones were impractical for the average consumer, it was a truly innovative to be able to receive an instant notification of a call or message, no matter where you were.

Not surprisingly, the popularity of pagers tanked when cellphones hit the mass market, but for a few years, pagers were the golden child of wearable tech, offering a clear benefit to the wearer, at a reasonable cost.

Final word

Wearable tech is not doomed to fail. Consumers love new products, but we also demand practicality. For wearable tech to be innovative (see my blog post on “What Is Innovation?“), it must satisfy a consumer need without being a hassle to wear.