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Patent translations - inherently risky?

Are Patent translations inherently risky?Lawsuits are a fact of life in the drug and device industries. And since many an action is brought across geographies (and thus, languages), translation is an integral part of filing, enforcing, and litigating intellectual property (IP).

As with many aspects of the pharmaceutical and medical device business, a lot is at stake and a lot is riding on knowing that translations are accurate. So do IP teams within drug and device companies manage the translation risk? When looking at patents, the answer seems to be "not really".

While there is an appreciation for the importance of translation quality, the state of the art still is "make sure you have a specialized translator and a separate editor and minimize the use of machine translation".

This is not to nit-pick on the traditional TEP model; for better or for worse, that is what translation service providers are doing. But it is curious that there doesn't seem to be any application of ISO 14971 or similar risk-management processes in the IP translation space. Is risk simply accepted in patent translations?

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  1. Kirti said...
    The avoidance on machine translation makes very little sense in the patent world. While it is clear that no MT should be used as a final product - it is now necessary to use MT as China (and Japan & Korea) are responsible for more than 50% of global patents. It is a sheer business necessity to have some idea of what these patents contain and identify which ones need human attention.

    Thus you will see that all the major governmental agencies around the world, especially, EPO, JPO and SIPO are very very interested in MT to make more their content visible to each other.
    Stefan said...
    Having worked as a patent examiner for the EPO and holding degrees in engineering as well as in linguistics and translation (now almost exlusively carrying out patent translations) , I can only agree with what has been said.

    HOWEVER, my experience (mostly during translating, when it is necessary to FULLY grasp what is said in the original) is that in more than 80% of the patents I see, the originals are FULL of ambiguities, points where there is a complete lack of clarity, points of contradiction...and even (and, I am sorry to say, all too often) utter nonsense. Technical texts should be written by scientists or engineers, definitely not by lawyers....The translation of a patent is indeed a risky business and should be carried out meticulously, but can never be better than the original. That is where the other adagio kicks in: rubbish in, rubbish out!
    Kevin Lossner said...
    I too translate quite a few patents, and I seldom see an original text without serious errors of one sort or another. Risk begins with the source!
    Яна Оникийчук said...
    Does anyone actually know a lawsuit(s) on malignant patent, involving translator(s), who worked on it?
    patenttranslations said...
    I wrote an article on this here (http://www.iptoday.com/articles/2008-10-cross.asp) but it is easier to access a similar article that I wrote here (http://patenttranslations.com/Publications/NYLJ%20Article%2008-10-10.pdf) which covers more or less the same ground.

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