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Patent translation and its challenges

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by Yannis Nistas, Language Lead at Commit Global

Have you ever come up with an idea, and the next few seconds wondered whether anyone else might have had the same idea before you? Have you ever kept a novel idea of yours as a state secret only to realize that your idea is not, well, so novel, but you just didn’t know it before? Ideas are the first step to making things happen, and, when it comes to the business world, their protection through patents is of utmost importance for a company’s survival. To this end, translation, and in our case patent translation, plays its part just as it does in almost all aspects of the real world.

In the following lines, we’ll shed some light on the concept of patent, we’ll see the purposes served through translation and the challenges faced by translators.

What is a patent?

According to Art. 52(1) of the European Patent Convention: “European patents shall be granted for any invention, in all fields of technology, provided that they are new, involve an inventive step and are susceptible of industrial application.” With a closer look at Art. 52(1), one may identify the three attributes of an invention (which may be a product or process), also known as patentability criteria: novelty (new), non-obviousness (inventive step), and utility (industrial application).

In terms of rights, an inventor who has been granted a patent is allowed to exclude others from making, using, or selling the invention in the territory covered by the patent grant for a certain period. Regarding obligations, the inventor is required to disclose the details of their intellectual property, so that it becomes public knowledge. This contributes to the further development of technology.

As far as structure is concerned, a patent consists of four parts: title, abstract, description and claims.

How is translation involved in all of this?

Patent translation is necessary for filing with a foreign patent office, which means it is part of a formal procedure, and it also covers informational needs. In fact, informational needs precede formal procedures. Those interested in patenting their idea should first find out whether the same idea has already been patented within a given territory.

Patent translation purposes and challenges

As with any subject matter, translating patents has its own challenges that translators need to overcome. To start with, all patent descriptions are texts with a high level of complexity and technicality. Translation professionals need to have deep knowledge of the subject at hand in order to understand exactly how an invention works. In addition, inventions may give birth to new concepts or neologisms, so the linguist performing the translation should be able to not only understand those new terms from the source language, but to also treat them as such and deliver them as new concepts or neologisms to the target language. And, last but not least, patent translators should be able to work under tight schedules to make sure filing deadlines are met, while keeping quality standards high. To put it briefly, the role of translators is to convey the abovementioned patentability criteria of novelty, non-obviousness and utility to the target language in a prompt and fine manner.

Closing thoughts

In the real world of economic activities, where innovative ideas bring revenues, their protection through patents is of utmost importance for companies. Innovative ideas place them ahead of the competition, allow them to enter new markets, grow, and basically sustain their presence. Oh, wait! The topic of the post is patent translation, not patents. By now you should be able to make the connection…

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