With global patent activity increasing, especially to and from Asian language markets, translation errors in patent applications are increasingly wreaking havoc
Companies of all sizes value the need to file patents in multiple jurisdictions to protect their IP, especially the resulting global revenue those patents generate. When it comes to obtaining quality translations necessary to file the patent in multiple foreign jurisdictions, however, many filers are shocked by the costs and disappointed that this expense will likely limit the scope of their filing strategy.
The problem with this view is perspective. As I shared recently at the IP and Innovation Summit 2014 in China, there’s a strong case for how investing in accurate quality translations can actually increase global IP protection and revenue, while reducing the overall cost of patent ownership.
With global patent activity increasing, especially to and from Asian language markets, translation errors in patent applications are increasingly wreaking havoc on both the prosecution process and enforcing the patent—and often the weaknesses do not surface for many years, which creates a ticking time bomb in your patent portfolio. To support this fact, three countries the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) reports as having the most patent applications received—China, the United States and Japan—are also home to the three languages recently reported as having the most patent errors related to translation. According to a study published in November 2013 by the Steinbeis-Transfer-Institute Intellectual Property Management of Munich, translating to Asian languages from Western languages, and vice versa, represents the most difficult translations.
The Steinbeis study further revealed that 80 percent of people directly involved in patent filing have also dealt with translation errors, a statistic confirmed by a show of hands of audience members at the presentation in China. How did translation errors impact the cost of patents? Again, according to Steinbeis, the cost of translation errors came from:
- Waiting longer for a patent to be granted due to office actions,
- The latent risk of an unenforceable patent,
- Additional internal and external costs,
- The disappointing result of having to limit the number of patents filed due to unexpected costs that exceed budget.
The dilemma is real: Accurate translations are imperative, not just nice to have, and yet the cost of accurate translations can also limit the jurisdictions where an inventor can file.
Transition to a Streamlined Translation Model
The answer to this no-win scenario is a new model for defining and producing quality IP translations—a model that enables filers to better manage and reduce the overall cost of their patent portfolio, while improving scientific and legal accuracy.
Traditionally, original patent applications are sent to regional law firms for “processing,” which includes translation as one of the filing services. Patent owners have little say in the cost and quality of translation. Law firms rarely—if ever—have enough translation business to maintain an active pool of translators and reviewers with sufficient scientific and local market expertise, or to invest in technology to enhance this process. In addition, their translators have little capacity to interact with translators in other jurisdictions or directly with the client. The translation results regularly prompt office actions due to translation errors and clarity issues, increase the risk of litigation and create inconsistency across multiple language translations of the same patent. No wonder the costs are high. Yet, the Steinbeis study concludes that half of all organizations still use this traditional model for foreign patent filing and another 34 percent use this model in conjunction with other processes.
Fifteen years ago, MultiLing worked with one of its largest enterprise clients, Procter & Gamble, to overhaul this process. The result is a centralized, streamlined process for patent translation that can be applied to Global 500 legal teams and is being adopted, by both legal teams and patent translation service providers, as a superior method for creating quality and efficiency. Essentially, patent translation is managed by one translation company, with global operations centralized by technology and is performed at the beginning of the application process. This allows for several benefits:
- Law firms and foreign agents can focus on legal work,
- Clients receive quality translations from translators who are not only highly skilled in language, but also have technical expertise in the client’s field,
- Clients benefit from technology investments that improve translation process, quality and security, and create efficiencies over time with terminology management and translation memories.
As an example, MultiLing has been able to invest more than $10 million in its technology solutions – an amount no single translator or foreign agent contracting with translators would likely afford.
Another MultiLing client, a manufacturing company in Japan, believed it could improve how its IP department operated. Its stated goals were to eliminate office actions related to translation, reduce the patent time-to-grant by three months and reduce the total cost of owning the patents by 10 percent. After six months of incorporating MultiLing’s streamlined model for translation, the company had filed 183 patents in eight jurisdictions. Twelve translators had translated 2 million characters and contributed 5,200 terms to the manufacturer’s database. Results attributable to MultiLing’s translation process and quality were:
- The elimination of translation and clarity-related office actions,
- Time to grant was reduced by six months—double the goal,
- The company’s total cost of patent ownership was reduced by 30 percent—three times the goal.
The final element critical to any translation model is quality. Several criteria must be met for an IP translation to be considered high quality and these criteria go far beyond words with the requisite technical and scientific accuracy. Quality IP translations support:
- Project timelines with reduced office actions and faster time to grant,
- Project budgets with a lower total cost of ownership for patent strategy at an enterprise or law firm,
- Protection of your IP with the absence of opposition or invalidation of patents due to translation issues.
A streamlined translation model can address all these quality issues by eliminating the most frequent reasons translation errors happen in the first place. The people + process + technology equation available with a dedicated IP translation partner brings the skills of native-language scientists and engineers with a knowledge of patent prosecution. The workflow of document translation in a streamlined model includes agreeing on definitions of quality by all parties—basically, how accurate the client expects the work to be depending on the purpose of the translation—and a stringent quality control process. Finally, technologies create consistent translations to express the same idea and intent across multiple languages and documents, again helping to increase overall quality and eliminate the cost—in both time and money—of office actions and even the invalidation of the patent.
When you truly identify and budget for the real benefits, threats and costs of IP translations, such as those outlined above, a streamlined model for translation makes the most sense for any size company.