Advice for Patent Translators

Even if you have legal translation experience, it goes without saying that you should never attempt to translate a patent without a good deal of prior experience or as a training exercise that would then be gone over and commented on by an experienced patent translator.

Patent translation utilises terms and terminology specific to itself and these must be at the forefront of any translator’s mind. To some extent, it is also an exercise in literal translation – the exact opposite of what most translators have spent years working on. Aside from the level of rigour expected in any technical and legal text, one of the keys of good patent translation is understanding what the invention is about. You do not need to be a specialist in electronics, or engineering, or Life Sciences etc., but it is very much a help to have a technical background or mind-set. Primarily, as ever, your function is that of a linguist.

Below are a few

Common pitfalls in patent translation

1) “consisting of” vs “comprising”

In colloquial English, these two expressions typically mean the same thing. Use them interchangeably in a patent, however, and you’re playing with fire.

“Comprising” means “including”, and is a non-exhaustive list. If a dinner is said to “comprise beef, potatoes and peas,” this does not rule the presence of other components, such as carrots or parsnips. However, “consisting of” means “only including”, so limits the scope of the invention. This means that a dinner “consisting of beef, potatoes and peas” only contains these elements, ruling out any additional unsaid components.

Needless to say, mixing these two expressions up can lead to serious consequences, as the scope of the invention may be excessively limited or conversely overly open-ended. The aim is always for the scope in the source language to be mirrored precisely in the target language.

2) “substantially” vs “essentially”

This is a common mistake, in particular when translating from German. The term “im Wesentlichen” in German could conceivably be translated as either, depending on context, but “essentially” should be avoided at all costs unless you are trying to convey the meaning of a “required” feature. Casual use of “essentially” will mean ending up littering your translation with necessary features, which once again has a significant impact on the scope of protection. If in doubt, go with “substantially”.

3) “admissibility” vs “allowability”

A slightly more niche distinction, as it’s typically only ever relevant when translating communications between opposing parties. Whereas the two terms seem synonymous at face value, they relate to different stages of proceedings. “Admissibility” determines whether a particular document will be considered as evidence as part of a dispute, whereas “allowability” relates to its relevance once it has been admitted into the proceedings. In other words, before it can be allowed, it has to be admitted.

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