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Lost in Patent Translations

Lost in Patent Translations

Perhaps the most important aspect of protecting intellectual property, in Turkey and internationally, is an accurate translation.

Especially in the case of patents, a translation error can be so significant as to reduce the scope of the invention as originally disclosed and claimed to an utterly meaningless concept and can be fatal to the whole patent.

A granted European patent travels across borders between the different national and regional patent offices, each office registering the same patent with different translations. The result: the scope of protection differs from one country to the next, because of the different translations in each national language. A translation error may mean that a patent’s claims are broader than those of any of its equivalents, thereby conferring more protection than is justified, making the patent potentially invalid – or the opposite. Because few national patent offices will reject a validation request because of its bad translation, the whole procedure being just a formal examination, the patent holder may only discover this difficult situation  when it takes action against an infringer many years after the patent has been registered.

Word by word translations, insufficient know-how in the related special field of science or engineering, linguistic difficulties and non-existant words in the relevant national language can damage the whole scope of protection of a patent and protection scope. Good  translators are well aware of the pitfalls.

But how can a patent applicant be sure of avoiding the pitfalls? What is needed to ensure the accuracy of patent translations? How can patent holders and IP firms prevent problems arising in litigation, years after the translation was done?

A patentee or IP firm should assess a professional translator against a number of criteria. Has the translator sufficient experience in patent translations? Do they have the necessary technical background? Are they able to provide references from satisfied clients? But these are only a starting point. To perform a good patent translation requires more. How the translator works on translations, and the procedures they follow, are also important. For example, how many times will the translator proofread the translation before it is finalized? Who carries out this essential check? Patent attorneys indisputably have the most relevant experience when it comes to reading patent documents, and must be involved in checking translations. Can the translator provide a sworn translation certificate? Can the IP firm certify that the translation was performed under a special guarantee, such as a sworn translation (even if there is no need for a sworn translation of patent texts before a national validation request)?

An answer to these questions may help to specify the quality of a patent translation without being a native speaker in the related national language. Otherwise please refer to the title of this article! [Or: Otherwise, your patent really does risk literally being lost in translation.]