The Pros and Cons of Patent Translation. A discussion between Letizia and Stefano

Today’s article is a bit different than our last one: today we’re going to take a different approach with an entirely new format, perhaps also to be used in the future. We couldn’t think of a better way to discuss the advantages and drawbacks of patent translation than with a chat to express our views. A conversation between colleagues, if you will.

So what you’ll find below is nothing more than a transcription of the first part of the conversation between myself, a beginner and quasi-newbie to the field, and Letizia, a true expert with years of experience and hundreds, if not thousands of translated patents behind her.

Two points of view, a single reality.

The Pros and Cons of Patent Translation

S: The first advantage is certainly the material you translate, as it’s all innovative and there’s a great variety of subjects. In the sense that, always working with patents, where innovation is an inherent aspect, there’s no risk of working on topics that have already been dealt with, hashed and rehashed, since usually a patent is synonymous with innovation, except in the case of updates…

L: It depends, it depends. Sometimes the updates are really minimal, or even just a change in nomenclature…

S: Okay, you’re right. But come on, let’s just say that because they’re patents, they have to do with various technological innovations, and beyond. And what’s more, the fields of application of patents are as varied as you could imagine. You wind up specialising in certain topics even if you also pass from one sector to another: from chemistry to mechanics, to telecommunications…

L: That’s true, if you’re properly supported, for example by a translation engine that’s been trained in a certain way and by TMs and glossaries that have been built over time. These things let you address multiple topics. The stronger the language resources you use…

*we burst out laughing* L: I know, I’m talking as if we were in front of others.

*more laughing* S: Don’t worry. I’ll only transcribe the parts where we’re serious. //I was obviously lying

S: So to sum up: as a first advantage we agree on the novelty of the topics addressed… It’s also interesting, at least for me, to learn about the various functions of machinery or other things… Many times this research is important in order to be able to translate correctly.

L: That’s right!

S: Like in your last article, you mentioned the terminological research necessary to correctly translate the names of various types of berries…

L: And I found that great website!

S: Then, again thanks to TMs and a trained MT engine, you can translate a lot of words per hour, improving your productivity more and more compared to other texts of a different nature. This can be another advantage.

L: Yes, although there is always an element of novelty in every patent, as we mentioned before and as it should be in a patent. Indeed, productivity increases thanks to the very structure of the patent text, with numerous repeated parts, intra- and inter-textually, with recurring expressions and portions of text. Especially as far as the bureaucratic/legal part of the patent is concerned. All this without considering divisional patent applications…

S: This is also why CAT tools are indispensable in patent translation; it would be quite silly not to use them… Which leads me to a drawback, precisely the lack of creativity. There is little room for the translator to add their touch; given the importance of the translation being absolutely faithful to the source text, considering its legal as well as administrative value…

A perfect example is the mandate for consistency: you absolutely cannot use synonyms. If you translate a certain term in a given way, you must use that exact translation all the way through… While in other texts the use of synonyms is strongly recommended.

L: This is the con of translating patents that I was going to mention, too. I think it may even be frustrating for a linguist, in a sense, to work on patent text… especially if it contains errors that must necessarily be translated as they are and at most pointed out to the customer. As the text has legal validity, you’re not allowed to correct an error unless it is blatantly obvious, and even then you have to decide on correcting it along with the customer. So, a linguist who translates other types of texts, for example marketing, or general documents like emails or letters, who is used to seeing a mistake, correcting it and politely pointing it out to the customer, in this case he has to say… swallow the bitter pill *laughing perhaps to hide something* and not say anything.

This is one of the drawbacks of patent translation. Another drawback that comes to mind is that, despite what we said earlier about terminological resources, advantages, etc., you can still come across a particularly specific field in which you haven’t yet had the chance to develop glossaries or do research. For example, I’m working on a *top secret case for one of our clients* that has specific terminology that’s also a bit strange. So when you’re working on these texts you find yourself looking up a term every sentence and, at least at the beginning, you spend a lot of time on terminology research. That’s the dark side of innovation.

S: Yes, of course *it’s an obvious answer but in fact it’s entirely right*, but this can also be seen as a positive aspect. It could happen – I haven’t come across this yet – but I know that many have had to almost create a neologism. That is, when there’s still not an established translation for a word in the target language, you have the possibility to coin a new term //then there’s also the chance that nobody considers it and will ever use it again.

If you think about it, very few other translators have this possibility.

L: You’re right, a bit like Adam in the garden of Eden!! //sincere laughter from the two dreamers

Letizia Merello, Stefano Gaffuri

English translation and adaptation by Sarah Schneider