E.g., 03/30/2020
E.g., 03/30/2020

Einstein Meets Shakespeare: Accurate IP Translations With Science & Art

By: Jeremy Coombs, Vice President, International Operations - MultiLing Corporation

The day I graduated from college was eye opening. As I walked off the stage after receiving my diploma, I opened it up, eager to gaze upon the fruits of my university labors. My enthusiasm turned to dismay, however, when I realized for the first time that my degree in linguistics was a bachelor of arts and not a bachelor of science. Lectures and coursework certainly felt more like science than art, especially when learning about brain disorders that affect speech production or the application of technology tools to translation processes.

For the translation field, there is indeed a significant debate regarding its status as science or an art. Is translation a creative process or simply the cold "one-to-one" transformation of words from one language to another? In my experience, art wins out in most debates.

Now, let's consider translations in the field of intellectual property. Patents themselves are very scientific in nature. I've heard them referred to as the detailed description of an invention, which is commonly defined as "a solution to a specific technological problem."

So where is it that Einstein and Shakespeare meet? Can science and art coexist? I'm very fortunate to see this question answered daily at MultiLing, as the majority of our projects focus on translations of highly technical patent applications and other IP-related material.

When we consider translation from the perspective of science, we see many theories and models that attempt to explain communication. For example, the Shannon and Weaver model conceptualizes communication (and translation, by extension), as a process of encoding a source message and transmitting this message to a receiver, which then decodes the message. The success of this process is determined by the receiver's understanding of the source message.

When we translate, we apply this exact model to take the intended communication of the patent writer and encode (translate) it in such a way that the receiver (a patent examiner, for instance) can decode the intended message as closely as possible to the original. The phrase "lost in translation" simply refers to the fact that in the science of encoding/decoding a message, one of the processes did not accurately capture the source.

Human language is infinitely complex. I love hearing phrases that sound as if they are being spoken for the first time, due to the particular arrangement and choice of words. For translators to successfully encode their messages, they must not only apply the science of translation, but also the art of language. I’ve found that the most skilled translators possess both the mind of a scientist and the heart of an artist, and, interestingly, in the patent realm when someone understands the science behind an invention they are said to be skilled in the art.

Now, let's examine the patent process as an art. All writing is a creative process. This is especially true when drafting a patent application. In fact, writing a source document is another form of translation. A skilled patent application author is able to translate the visible or functional concepts of an invention into a written description.

When representing an invention, word choice is key. If the description of the invention's merits is too narrow, the inventor may not get the coverage they seek. If the words chosen are too broad, the patent request may be denied or unenforceable. While a patent application may not be found in an art gallery, this skillful weaving of language is indeed an art.

Unfortunately for both translation and patent applications, art is in the eye of the beholder. Because of the complexity associated with language, some ideas can be translated in different ways and still accurately represent the source message. However, authors and translators learn the preferences of their audience and adapt their art and tools appropriately—including adopting technology tools such as terminology management software to ensure consistency across a team of translators.

Invention and translation. Both processes require the thorough weaving of art and science. Leonardo da Vinci would be proud.


Jeremy Coombs

Jeremy Coombs is the vice president of international operations at MultiLing, the innovative leader in intellectual property (IP) translations and related support services for foreign patent filings. Jeremy Coombs joined MultiLing in 1999 and has become one of the company’s principle operations and technology minds.  In his current role as Vice President of International Operations, he manages MultiLing’s international offices across Asia, Europe and South America.  Combining his love of project management and computer science, he also helps guide the development of MultiLing’s translation memory system, terminology management system and project tracking/workflow system. In addition to his work at MultiLing, he volunteers time to Translators Without Borders and has influenced international standards through his participation in ASTM and ISO committees. Coombs received a bachelor’s degree in linguistics with an emphasis on computer science and Scandinavian studies from Brigham Young University in 2000.  He is a PMP accredited member of the Project Management Institute. Jeremy is a native English speaker and is also fluent in Finnish and Swedish.