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Expert Corner

Intellectual Property expert

The Challenges of Patent Translation

The translation of patents offers specific challenges. As is the case with technical translations, the challenge for translators is to understand the technology or process described so as to be able to provide a technically accurate translation. With patents, the challenge also lies in the fact that by definition, the subject matter of a patent is new. There may be few (if any) references and in extreme cases, a patent agent may have resorted to creating a new word for which a translation must be found.

 

The specifics of Patent Translation explained

 

The texts focus on a very narrow area of technology and cross-referencing with other material in the public domain is often not an option. Another challenge is the sometimes difficult phraseology such as “each” in a plurality of “each”, or “one” in “s is selected from one of a, b, c or d”, used by some patent attorneys. In particular the length of sentences and the lack of punctuation or respect for grammatical rules dear to linguists can be problematic. In addition, the actual structure of a language can present challenges. Although patent translators should always be reluctant to change the structure of a sentence, sometimes minor restructuring is vital to reflect the meaning of the original text. Some languages can appear to be frustratingly vague to the patent translator, for example someone translating “wherein” into French can be faced with choosing between “dans lequel” or “dans laquelle”, both of which could conceivably be possible. It is in such cases that it is vital to have a clear understanding of the subject matter and “spirit” of the invention. On a more encouraging note, patents generally come with drawings illustrating important points.

 

Patent Translation expertise

 

Although the claims are shorter than the specification, they are the focus of particular attention at the drafting stage and require particular attention at the translation stage. Claims are the first part of a patent to be drafted, and the choice of not only technical nouns but also verbs is key. The layout of the claims follows established rules, and it is not unusual for the first claims to last several lines, if not a whole page or more! Understanding the structure of each claim is essential, and identifying the subject of verbs in the claims can often prove challenging. The role and meaning of verbs in the claims are very significant and the translation of verbs like “include”, “comprise”, “consist” is often the subject of lengthy discussion between translators and patent agents. At stake is often the potential risk of “limiting” the scope of the invention, a cardinal sin. This risk can arise not only from the translation of verbs but also from the translation of technical names given to parts.

 

Patent Terminology

 

Patents also use specific terms that require terminology knowledge to translate. The failure to accurately translate terms such as “embodiment”, “application laid open to the public”, “application”, “letters patent” or “preamble” is often seen to be a sign of lack of specific patent translation experience.

 

Of course, not all language combinations will face the same challenges, and the structure of some claims will be simple. The translation of the specification can also present its own challenges. The technical nouns must be consistent throughout and appropriate translations for each word must be found, regardless of the number of synonyms used. It is not uncommon for the verbs “fasten”, “attach”, “fix”, “mount” and “affix” to be used in a single document, for example. The wording of the claims is often repeated in the specification, and particular attention needs to be paid to ensure the same translation is used. Patents, especially those containing drawings, can contain a large number of numerical references. The translator not only ensures all references are included in the translation, but also checks that their use has been consistent. An issue in drawings is the presence of a technical word or acronym that is not mentioned in the specification, for which there is little context. Finally, the translation of “method” and “process” often depends on the field of the invention.

 

Patent translations require extensive research and careful word selection. Beyond technical accuracy, patent translations should reflect the style of the patent as much as possible. This is difficult to achieve and takes years of practice. It is often a criticism from patent attorneys even when the translation is technically accurate.

 

Extract taken from the article was published in the September-October 2010 issue of ITI Bulletin. www.iti.org.uk

 

 

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