Belgian-based Lernout & Hauspie Speech Products has bought two privately held European companies and signed a letter of intent to acquire a third. L&H president and CEO Gaston Bastiaens said the acquisitions would advance the company?s machine translation activities, as well as aid the development of its multilingual speech products such as dictation software for Scandinavian languages.
Trantex of Finland and Wordwork of Sweden were purchased by L&H for a total of $11.3 million, $6.8 million in cash and the rest in shares. The terms of the letter of intent to puchase Italian based Kermit were not disclosed.
L&H had just announced at Comdex a number of new products, including an integrated continuous dictation and voice control application for Microsoft Windows. Microsoft, which owns an approximately eight per cent stake in the company, has said it will use L&H speech technology in future products.
Since its Nasdaq IPO in the summer of 1996, L&H has been on a shopping spree, first purchasing competing speech technology companies like Berkeley Speech Technologies and Kurzweil, then buying into machine translation software with the acquisition of GMS.
Lately, L&H has been buying up companies that employ human translators. Analysts have criticised this move, claiming human translation has little to do with the company?s core technology. Gaston Bastiaens disputes this.
?Machine translation is a part of our core language technology. We believe that in the future, the majority of translations will be done by computers. We will be bringing our machine translation technology into these companies. In this way we are creating the machine translation market, and at the same time generating profits that we can use to develop our translation software further?.
Bastiaens does admit the translation business - which now accounts for almost half the company?s turnover - is less profitable than the core technology licensing.
At Comdex last week, L&H previewed an Internet service to be launched in 1998. It will allow Web surfers to search the Web in their own language, retrieving documents in multiple languages. Users will then be able to obtain, in near real time, a machine translation of these documents. For an additional fee, they will be able to order a better quality human translation online.
Gaston Bastiaens said a pilot system should be operational by the end of the year, with commercial exploitation starting in Q2 of 1998. Professional users will pay a monthly fee of $100-200 for the service, Bastiaens predicted, but he said there might also be cheaper pricing options for consumers.
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