Protecting IP in Asia: How to Increase Translation Quality Across Patents and Other Scientific Documents
By Adam Bigelow, Regional Manager of Asia - MultiLing
The global economy may be struggling, but intellectual property (IP) filings, especially to and from Asian countries, continue to climb. According to a recent report from the World Intellectual Property Association, China outpaced the United States in the number of patent applications received in 2011 (respectively 526,412 to 503,582), with Japan in third with 342,610 applications. Couple this increase with the difficulty of translating between western and Asian languages and it should come as no surprise that a recent study shows that patents to and from China and Japan experience the most frequent problems arising from faulty patent translations. Unfortunately, mistranslations on a patent application cannot only cause costly delays and office actions during patent prosecution, they also leave companies vulnerable to post-grant litigation risk. As a result, when it comes to protecting IP in the global market, translation quality is critical. “Quality” translation means more than just linguistic quality, however. In any type of translation work, particularly when dealing with valuable IP, quality is defined as to what degree the work product achieves its intended purpose. The criteria I use to evaluate the success, or quality, of a patent translation includes:
- Technical or scientific accuracy
- Absence of translation- or clarity-related office actions
- Reduced time to grant
- Absence of opposition or validation due to translation or clarity issues
- Total cost of ownership (TCO)
A study from the Steinbeis Transfer Institute in Stuttgart, Germany, revealed that problems with incorrect patent translations occur most frequently with Asian languages. This is mostly attributed to a company’s inability to check translations for correctness, along with the still-frequent use of a country-by-country, or decentralized, translation approach. Yokohama Rubber, a Japanese company with more than 10,000 patents in its portfolio, illustrates the arising issues. Using a decentralized approach resulted in frequent translation errors and clarity-related office actions, which contributed to a delayed time-to-grant. Patent translation accounted for more than 40 percent of Yokohama’s costs, forcing the company into a difficult decision: continue to pour money into the translation budget, cut back on its patent efforts or find a different translation model altogether. Yokohama really wanted to worry about its technology, not the distractions caused by poor translations and clarity issues. As a result, Yokohama shifted from a decentralized translation approach to a centralized one involving highly specialized translators from MultiLing. It wasn’t enough to have translators with linguistic expertise. They had to possess a native grasp of the target language in addition to an intimate understanding of the technology involved. Without those two components, the likelihood of translation errors increases. In the end, Yokohama’s shift in its translation approach led to:
- No office actions related to translation or clarity. In fact, there were multiple instances where patents were granted without a single rejection
- Decreased turnaround times by leveraging previous translations
- Reduced filing and administrative costs by introducing Yokohama to more cost-effective foreign patent law firms
- 30 percent reduction in total cost of patent ownership
- Six months’ average decrease in time to grant
Asian companies overall want a translation solution that answers the needs and purposes of the translation and that improves their benefit. It’s not just that the translation is technically accurate – it’s that it increases the value and function of the patent. It’s about providing a model that increases their benefits, saves them money, and makes them more money.
Adam Bigelow is the regional manager of Asia, country manager of Japan and IP strategy specialist at MultiLing. He is based in Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan. He presented this topic as part of a GALA webinar on June 20.
NOTE: The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of GALA.