Patent translation is one of the translation’s areas that more than others require the linguist to pay the utmost attention and precision. It is the very nature of the patent – a mix of technical and legal terminology – that necessitates this level of accuracy. However, as well as any other human fact, translation is exposed to potential errors. But what could be the consequences of errors in patent translation and what can be done to avoid them?
Quoting the words of the patent lawyer Dmitry Yakovlev, also reported by the Law Division of the ATA (American Translators Association):
“[…] in the present digital era, translations continue to remain a field of intense intelligence action and, quite literally, an art for a human. This is especially true for patent translations, where accuracy is a must and where the scope of patent protection may be affected by one unfortunately misplaced letter or comma”.
This statement is further confirmed by the decision of the Board of Appeal at the EPO (European Patent Office) regarding the EP2621341B1 patent. Resulted in the revocation of the patent specifically due to the absence of two commas within the claims.
The Most Common Errors In Patent Translation
Wanting to make a general simplification of the most common errors we can define two macro categories: formal errors and semantic errors.
The first category includes the ones often considered milder and easily detectable, although they are inaccurate in all respects. They are also the most common errors and mainly concern the typographic sphere of the text.
If the translator does not notice it during his control phase of the work, these inaccuracies can be easily detected during the revision phase. Were the professional in charge of the task (reviewer) can modify them.
As mentioned earlier, these errors are often regarded as minor due to their relatively easy preventability. However, they should not be underestimated, as they can have a disastrous impact on the patent process, as illustrated in the aforementioned case.
The second category is distinguished from the first by the nature of inaccuracy: semantic errors precisely concern the sphere of meaning.
Assuming that these mistranslations are the result of an incorrect interpretation of the semantic nuances of a given term, elsewhere considered a minor error, they can nevertheless be more insidious.
This is because a small inaccuracy inherent in the meaning of a term will not only be reported at every occurrence in the document (terminological coherence) but will also be more difficult to detect because, precisely, erroneously not considered as a true inaccuracy.
However, a trained reviewer will certainly have the ability to intervene by neutralizing the possible consequences.
The Consequences Of These Errors
Let’s now see what the consequences of errors in patent translation for the owners and applicants could be.
First, we must start by citing the worst-case scenario, which is the negative outcome of the patent application. Which will therefore render the entire process useless and expose our invention to possible use, or even the initiation of a counterfeiting procedure, by a competitor.
The same consequences, even if transferred over time, will lead to the revocation of a patent previously granted following litigation based on translation errors.
A further scenario concerns the lack of protection under the original patent scope, which could make the patent worthless in some countries (those of the target languages in the translation process).
Wanting to give some real examples of harmful consequences caused by errors in patent translation, we quote again Dmitry Yakovlev.
Within a given Russian patent, granted to a company X, the expression “median diameter of the particles” was rendered by the translator as “average diameter of the particles”.
So, the granting of the patent was challenged by a competitor for “lack of novelty and inventive step”. The opposition was accepted by the Russian Patent Office as the application was re-evaluated considering the average, not median, particle size.
The patent has then been invalidated.
In this text, we have repeatedly mentioned the figure of the reviewer. This is because, as expressly required by the ISO 17100:2015 standard for translation services, a quality language service provider must guarantee the intervention of a second professional within its workflow.
Often, however, to save on the costs of translating the patent, applicants turn to non-specialized agencies. Or, even worse, to people who do not carry out the activity of translator as professionals.
While it is fair to keep an eye on costs, adopting economic restraint as the sole criterion can expose you to potential risks and huge economic losses.
Relying on an LSP specialized in the field of intellectual property, supported by linguists specialized in patent documents, will reduce the risk of errors and the related economic and legal consequences.
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