Translation has traditionally been one of the more over-looked aspects of the patent and intellectual property business, but with the IP landscape continuing to grow and expand across international borders, it has become a vital part of the overall “IP workflow.” Whether it’s translating a patent application for filing in another country, patent examiners at the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) researching an application’s “patentability,” or supporting patent litigation, if you’ve never had to procure a high-quality, cost-effective translation before, know that it is not always an easy task.

As a buyer of translation services, whether you are a patent attorney, paralegal , patent agent, researcher at an IP services firm or even an inventor, there are a few tips to help you get the most for your money when it comes to translations!

Translation Agency, Freelance Translator, or Machine Translation?

There are three main options when it comes to obtaining a translation, with each having its own set of advantages and disadvantages. First of all is going with a translation agency. The advantages of using a translation agency are typically an integrated, comprehensive quality control process (usually based on the industry standard of “TEP” – Translation, Editing & Proofreading, all done by separate linguists), the ability to provide “certified” translations, and the capacity to handle larger volumes in multiple languages and across a wider spectrum of subject matter expertise.

The main disadvantage of a translation company is usually price – of the three options presented here this will usually be the highest cost option, though as described the risks associated with the other options can mean that the higher initial cost is well worth it. , Contracting with individual freelance translators is another option, and usually less costly than working with a translation company. If you pursue this route, however, be prepared for the need to commit a significant amount of time to project management, as you will not only need to field any queries from the linguist, but often times coordinate with one translator and one separate editor per translation project.

Also, if you frequently handle patents in a wide variety of technical fields and languages, you would need to recruit and develop a fairly large pool of qualified linguists in order to meet your needs. Not to mention, most freelance translators have numerous clients, so when your urgent translation need arises, their time may already be booked. In the end, the amount of time necessary to manage all of these factors and contingencies can yield a hefty cost. Lastly, many freelance translators prefer to work through translation companies, as it affords them a degree of anonymity as well as relieves them of all of the associated administrative burdens, including invoicing and payment collection. If you do choose to explore this option, though, there are a number of resources online to find translators, such as the American Translators Association (ATA) website directory.The last option is the cheapest of the three, but also carries the most risk – machine translation. Machine translation technology, or translation software, has improved significantly in recent years, and does have some applicability to patent translations. Within the last couple of months, there have been a number of reports about the EU Patent Office submitting content to Google to feed into its “Google Translate” program to help boost its accuracy, and while some of the better machine translation programs can give you a fairly reasonable idea of the content of a foreign-language document, they still don’t come close to a professional, certified translation, which is often required for patent application filings, litigation, etc. If, however, you only need to get the gist of the meaning, machine translation may be a viable option.

How to pick the right translation vendor!

So, working with a translation company is probably your best bet. If you do decide to move forward with one, you want to make sure you select the best one to fit your needs, which usually involve cost, turnaround time, communication & customer care, and quality.

The translation industry is a rapidly growing one, and competition is often fierce. With a low barrier to entry, there are literally tens of thousands of language service providers worldwide. You want to make sure you choose one that is reputable, which you can determine based on the number of years they have been in the business, a listing of past clients and even references. You should also make sure that they have specific experience in the highly-specialized field of patents. Different companies tend to specialize in a few specific areas, and you really wouldn’t want to deal with a company who normally handles health insurance applications to translate your patent for an advanced radiological imaging device!

You also want to make sure you understand their quality control process, how they recruit and evaluate their linguists, that they are following the industry standard of “TEP” on all of their translations, that they carry professional liability insurance, and that they are affiliated with a recognized organization, such as the American Translators Association (ATA) or Association of Language Companies (ALC).

Also, remember the old adage of “you get what you pay for!” If the price they’re quoting seems too good to be true, it just may be! Technical document translations can be expensive, but when a bad translation can jeopardize your litigation or patent application, which could end up costing you and your client much more in the end, it is usually worth it to pay a little more to guarantee that you are getting the best possible quality. Most translation companies do offer volume discounts based on frequent or large requests, so be sure to inquire about those up front if you expect to have many translation projects over time.

Furthermore, make sure that you allow substantial time for the translation process. A general rule of thumb is about 2,000 words per day, plus additional time for editing and proofreading. While most translation providers do offer expedited services, and can usually integrate multiple linguists into a large, quick turnaround time project when needed, this may not allow for enough time for thorough quality control, and if multiple translators are working on the same document in order to meet a tight deadline, you will likely end up with some inconsistencies in terminology choice and style throughout the entire document.

Finally, make sure you provide any reference materials, previous related translations you may have had done, as well as any supporting documentation, such as graphs, charts and especially drawings, which go a long way in assisting the translator in conveying the intent of the inventor in describing his/her invention.

In the end, translation is a crucial, albeit often over-looked part of the patent business. It can be especially daunting when you have no familiarity with the language(s) in question, which is why it is important to make sure you find a service provider with whom you can develop a long-term relationship.

Today’s post is by Guest Barista David Evseeff

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  1. I would add a fourth option: having it translated by a patent attorney in a law firm.

    Although still more expensive than the professional translator, it is the only option that will let you sleep at night.

    I have seen translations done by professional translators, who knew nothing about patent law.

    Well, when they are faced with two (quasi) equivalent terms for a translation, it has happened they chose the more limiting one. More specificically, more limiting than the original version.

    This is unfrotunately unavoidable for a professional translator, since they do not have a precise knowledge of patent law and may be, depending on different legislations, impossible to correct.

    So, if you want precise and correct service, the only alternative, albeit expensive, is to have it translated by a patent attorney.

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Daisy Kubrick and Silvina JoverCirillo, patesalo. patesalo said: Patent Translation 101 – Patent Baristas […]

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  4. I am a patent attorney in training, and do a lot of translating (French to English) for my firm.
    It is certainly a time-consuming and rather thankless process. I wish those who draft patents would think more about those who will be translating it- simple, straight to the point phrases are much easier to translate (and just plain understand) than long convoluted phrases that drag on and on.

  5. Here is a similar story

    The Gigaom blog reported yesterday that Google was awarded a US patent last September for “displaying original text in a user interface with translated text.” My initial reaction was shock. After all, we are developing software for display and editing of machine translation ourselves. Will we need to pay royalties to Google? I am sure other companies are asking the same question.

    Well I would like to offer some words of comfort. I read through Google’s patent and even though I am not a patent attorney, I am pretty sure that the patent is eye-wash (British army slang for something done just for appearance, rather than utility). Furthermore, a simple Google search indicates that the solution for displaying original text in a UI with translated text dates back to at least 2004, two years before Google applied for the said patent. Here is the article that proves it.

  6. If you filing a convention application (i.e., non PCT foreign) pay careful attention to your foreign filing licenses. Some translation companies send the work out of the US to be translated, which would be a no-no if you don’t have a FFL. Same for sending it to your foreign associate for translating.

  7. In response to Edoardo’s comment, yes having a patent attorney do the translation (provided that they are bilingual, of course!) is always the BEST bet … but that doesn’t necessarily diminish the ability of a translation company from providing a high quality patent translation service, especially when they are using translators who ARE patent attorneys, patent paralegals, etc., which any that are worth their salt should be doing anyway.

  8. David, have you thought about translating the independent claim issued by the EPO, when the patent owner wants to validate the patent in EPC Member States within 3 months of grant, and the national Patent Office still requires a translation of the patent?

    The scope of protection is defined by that claim. What service offers are available to the patent owner, to translate it into the local language? How does outside US patent counsel choose from amongst those motley service providers, on behalf of the his/her client who will be suffering the costs of the operation?

    Flippant answer: don’t bother protecting, in those countries.

  9. […] Patent translation 101 (Patent Baristas) […]

  10. As a former patent prosecutor, I can certainly attest to the frustration of working with poorly translated documents. And the extra time needed to decipher these documents means additional costs for the client. I now work for a specialist foreign patent filing provider, but of course we do translations as part of this work via our foreign attorney network. We’ve found that translation-related setbacks during prosecution are minimized when the translations are performed by patent attorneys in the jurisdiction. For more info, we have a blog article on this subject.