A few times a year I open up the newspaper when I have my first cup of coffee in the morning and I see that another customer of mine is gone. This morning it was a large law firm. Let’s see, the first translation job I did for them was in ……. the Spring of 2000. I remember now, it was a big one. I had to hire another translator to help me with it because it was a rush and it still took us a couple weeks. So I move the file of the company from my filing cabinet for “active” files to a much bigger cabinet for “non-active” files. The “non-active” one is twice as big but I can’t fit anything in it any more. I will have to buy something bigger. It is not always a bust for me when another firm disappears because when patent lawyers move from one firm to another, they still remember how to find my website, and some do that, sometime years later.
Companies come and go. Translators, at least freelance translators, have a way of staying where they were when another customer of theirs bites the dust.
When I lived in Tokyo in mid eighties, I worked as an in-house translator for a small company. I liked the people that I was working with but I did not like the upper management in that tiny company. They were very dishonest, and quite open about it, at least to us, lowly employees. So I had a number of interviews with other companies while I still had my job with the company that I really did not like at all. I had 3 interviews at the headquarters of a major, innovative player in the securities business, let’s call them “Ichiban Ichiban!” (which means” No. 1 No. 1!). They were looking for a multilingual person for their merger & acquisitions department and they seemed to be really interested in my mix of languages. When I shared my secret about my 3 interviews with “Ichiban Ichiban!” with Fukuzawa-san, a colleague of mine, he looked at me and said with great emotion in his voice:”Vitek-san, I would rather work at “Ichiban-Ichiban!” as a janitor than doing what I am doing here. I would learn more over there!”
But I was waiting in vain for the phone call from “Ichiban-Ichiban!”. Since they did not want me, half a year later I moved back to San Francisco. I know now that I was probably not cut out for that kind of work anyway, but I did not know it then. About 10 years ago I read in the newspaper when I was drinking my first cup of coffee in the morning that “Ichiban-Ichiban!” went bankrupt and company officials were under investigation for illegal practices. So it is probably a good thing that they did not hire me back then. Maybe the things that I would have learned there would not have been that great for me after all, in spite of what Fukuzawa-san said.
Companies come and go. The really famous ones go bust too every now and then. And even the small ones “reorganize” themselves all the time, which means that some people leave and maybe start something else somewhere else, and those may be the people who kept you so busy for so many years. As the Bible says:”Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help.”
So what can I put my trust in as a patent translator? Well, I think that it is safe to assume that people will continue coming up with new designs for things that they use, such as cell phones and microwave ovens, and that they will keep filing patents for these new designs.
Remember what cell phones used to look like 10 years ago? Who knows what they will look like 10 years from now. I remember when there were no cell phones and no microwave ovens. Who knows what we will be cooking our food in 10 years from now?
I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I do know that somebody will have to translate all those patents for new gizmos filed in German, Japanese, French and other languages for as long as people keep inventing new things and threatening to sue each other for infringement of patents (and usually settling before a trial). And it might as well be me since that is what I have been doing for the last 24 years anyway. So that is what I am putting my trust in now instead of putting my trust in people.
To paraphrase the New Testament again:”Super hanc petram eadificabo” (on this rock I will I continue building my translation business).