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Managing Patent Translation Risks

By Martin Cross1

As the globalization of intellectual property continues, ever more patent practitioners find themselves relying on translations, and while problems with translations can damage overseas filings, leave domestic patents open to challenge and undermine litigation strategies, few practitioners have policies in place to mitigate these risks.

To understand translation risk, it must be remembered that there is no such thing as a perfect translation. A word or a phrase in one language rarely corresponds exactly to a single word or phrase in another language. For example, the simple English term "you" can be expressed by numerous different words Japanese, depending on the relationship between the author and the person being addressed2. By choosing one of these possible translations for "you", the translator excludes the others, necessarily making the Japanese translation narrower than the English original. Because there is no single right way of dealing with such problems, translation is an interpretive art. As such, all translations necessarily carry the risk of loss or distortion of the original message.

Skilled human translators are able to minimize this loss but, being human, they are also capable of making things worse as result of errors of omission and misunderstanding. The resulting distortion wi...

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