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MultiLing quietly translating international business into money

By Karissa Neely daily Herald - | Jun 1, 2015
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Jeremy Coombs, senior vice president of operations, and Lyle Ball, chief operating officer, of MultiLing Corporation, pose for a portrait in their office on University Ave. in Provo on Tuesday, May 26, 2015. GRANT HINDSLEY, Daily Herald

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Michael Sneddon, founder and President of MultiLing in Provo.

MultiLing is a hugely global company not very well known in Utah Valley. From its office on the sixth floor of the Zions Bank Financial Center in Provo, the company provides highly accurate and scientific patent translation services for large corporations all over the world.

The company was founded in 1988 by then-Provo resident Michael Sneddon. For the first decade of the company’s operations, Sneddon drew on the natural linguistic talents of the area’s LDS returned missionaries and the many international speakers that flocked to the valley. The company translated anything and everything. That changed 17 years ago.

Sneddon, president and CEO, saw an opportunity to focus on translating technical patents for large companies. One of his first large corporation partnerships was with Proctor and Gamble. P&G, a company that holds more than 35,000 patents in personal and home care products, needed a more accurate and cost-efficient way to file its patents in multiple languages globally.

“Their partnership really innovated the way corporations translate the legal documents associated with patents,” said Lyle Ball, COO of MultiLing. “For the last 17 years, our focus has been on enabling global commerce for big corporations.”

Before MultiLing and P&G connected, large corporations went through a multi-tiered process translating sensitive patent documents. They had to personally contract with larger overseas law firms, who then in turn contracted with smaller country-specific firms, who then contracted with the patent arm of their firms, and with outside linguists to translate each document. It was an expensive, sluggish, security-weak process, Ball explained.

Through MultiLing, though, companies contract directly with MultiLing. For the same $1 million these corporations spent on translating just one patent, MultiLing is able to translate the main patent and its sister patents and related legal filings, streamlining and secure the process. For a company that is spending that much on just the patent of a product, in addition to millions spent on the research and development of the product, this is significant.

MultiLing has set up its own network using native speakers that manage and edit the patent translations from the Provo office, while utilizing native speakers living in their native countries who translate and report directly to Provo.

“Languages are changing, and the industry has shown that the best translation comes from those living their language day to day,” said Jeremy Coombs, senior vice president of operations for MultiLing. “But we need native speaking editors here, who are living the English language as well, so they can catch the nuances that might be missed. That way we have the best of both worlds.”

MultiLing currently has seven foreign offices outside the U.S. in Korea, Taiwan, China, Japan, Peru, Germany and Italy. There are now more than 2,200 employees and contractors working for MultiLing, and the company offers translation services for almost 125 different languages. The company serves large corporations who develop products in the personal care, pharmaceutical, biological, energy and software industries.

Because of the ever-changing and highly scientific nature of the products these companies are introducing and inventing these days, the MultiLing employee base has changed dramatically from its early years. The company now must search for employees who usually have a masters or doctorate in a science degree, who also have an interest in linguistics, and can speak at least two languages. It makes hiring difficult.

“We’ve specialized ourselves in highly technical patents. For example, when you pair chemical engineering with the need to translate it into Uzbeki, a very small amount of people can do that,” Coombs said. “All of our translators need to speak three languages, actually — their native language, English, and lawyer-speak.”

To find and retain that type of highly technical and linguistic talent, MultiLing creates solid, long-term relationships with firms and freelancers. They spend a large amount of time training them on their own patent-protected translation software that allows real-time global collaboration. So, they don’t want to lose them.

The company also creates a unique work atmosphere in their Provo headquarters.

“We’ve grown very fast in the past few years, but we’ve kept our strong value system,” Ball said. The company pays the majority of its employees’ health care costs, and offers personal health coaching and training. “Our culture is generous, because we’re focused on our employee’s long-term lifestyles.”

Coombs said Ball’s addition to the staff three years ago has really boosted the culture. “He is joy. He’s genuinely interested in us enjoying what we do,” he said.

And Coombs, who’s been at MultiLing for almost 17 years, enjoys every day as he rubs shoulders with 20 to 30 cultures each day.

“Our office is a little U.N. here, but the MultiLing culture is the recipe that holds us together,” Coombs said.


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