Thursday, August 20, 2009

Artscroll's patent

Over the past few years Artscroll has noted in some of it's interlinear translations that the system it uses is patent pending. For example, the search string "patent-pending use of arrows" returns, many results from their advertising copy, both on and off their web site. It seems that the patent is no longer pending, as Artscroll has been referring to the patent in advertisements in newspapers recently. The substance of those ads can be found in the following post on the Artscroll Blog (did you know there was an Artscroll blog?):

Not far away from such venerable American institutions as the Capitol and the Smithsonian stands the U.S. Patent Office. Here we can find more than 5 million patents, fascinating records of humanity’s imagination and ingenuity. Among them are those that brought light (patent number 12631 — the incandescent light bulb) and knowledge (patent number 3120606 — ENIAC, the world’s first computer) to the world.

And then there is ArtScroll’s unique Interlinear Translation system (patent number 6778950) which brought both light and knowledge to the world in a very different way.

The original ArtScroll translations introduced hundreds of thousands of English speakers to the beautiful and timeless words of Torah and Jewish prayer. Yet one thing was lacking in all translations: they always appeared on the opposite facing page. It was difficult for someone who wanted to follow the translation along, word for word, with the original Hebrew.

The answer to the problem was clear: to place an English language translation immediately beneath the Hebrew words. But that raised another challenge: how to deal with the fact that Hebrew reads from right to left, while English reads in the opposite direction, from left to right? How could the English translation be readable, if you had to read it backwards?

That challenge brought about an innovation so revolutionary that it became the only patented translation system in the world of Jewish publishing. The ArtScroll Interlinear Translations, in the various Schottenstein editions, use an arrow system that guides the eye gently, directing it through the full text in the proper direction. Not sure what a word means in the Chumash or Siddur? Just glance down below and see the translation right there. Want to understand the meaning of an entire phrase or sentence? Your eye moves down to the English and then rapidly, almost unconsciously, follows the arrows to read a flowing, word for word translation, from right to left, from left to right, without interruption.

The Interlinear Translations have revolutionized the way English speakers learn and pray. With the publication of Sefer Devarim, the Schottenstein Interlinear Chumash is now complete, in five volumes. Many other classic works are available in the interlinear format: the Siddur, the Machzor, the Hagaddah, Megillas Esther, Sefer Tehilim, Zemiros, Pirkei Avos, and the Vidui service.

The very best inventions change the way we live. The ArtScroll/Mesorah Interlinear translations have changed the way we read, learn, and pray. And what could be more important than that?

Here's what they're referring to:

Curious how the patent was written, and since you can search for patents online, I went to the most logical starting place, Google Patent Search. Figuring I could just plug "artscroll" into the search box, but no results. So I entered the patent number, 6778950, and I was surprised the find that Artscroll appeared to have nothing to do with it. Patent # 6778950 was granted on August 17, 2004 to someone living in Israel named Benyamin Gohari.1 It is called "Translation arrangement" and in the abstract is described as
A method for arranging a first text in a first language having a first direction and comprising a plurality of meaningful units, and a translation of the first text into a second text in a second language having a second, opposite, direction and comprising a plurality of translation units, each of the translation units being a translation of a corresponding meaningful unit of the first text. The method includes positioning the first and second texts such that the first text reads in the first direction, and the translation units of the second text, each reading in the second direction, are positioned vertically adjacent to the corresponding meaningful units of the first text, surrounding at least one translation unit with a first type of grouping symbols, and positioning directionality symbols indicating the first direction between horizontally adjacent translation units of the second text.
You can read it here or download it as a PDF.

The patent cites "The Interlinear Hebrew/ Greek English Bible" and "The Interlinear NIV Hebrew -- English Old Testament" sample page. Now what I was expecting in the Artscroll patent!

In any case, what gives? Did Artscroll buy the patent from Benyamin Gohari? Did he merely give them permission to use his system? Artscroll doesn't exactly call it their own patent, but they don't exactly not call it that either.

All in all, unexpected, interesting and in need of further explanation and clarification.

edit: Here's another translation arrangement, from 1615:

1 Who seems to have produced a Persian-Hebrew version of the Chumash, see here. I'm not sure if he was the translator.

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