Five Pillars of Success for IP Translations

What keeps you up at night? For patent attorneys, it could be the one time you sent your client’s patent off to be translated from English to German, and since you don’t read German, didn’t know that a translation error changed the meaning of the patent enough that a judge ruled a client’s claim against a competitor invalid.

That would keep me up at night!

Over the past few years, many of the world’s largest patent filers have consolidated patent work to fewer law firms. As a result, patent attorneys and managers of the translation process are now responsible for overseeing a larger number of disconnected in-country translation service providers. Unfortunately, this can lead to increased errors and risks.

That isn’t so good, especially when trying to protect your client’s intellectual property.

If possible translation errors and other related risks concern you at all, it’s time to reevaluate your translation service provider and make sure it can give you accurate and highly secure patent translations every time.

Translating patents isn’t like translating press releases or whitepapers. These materials can be reworded, adjusted, modified, and reformatted to accommodate linguistic nuances. Patents, however, require very specialized and precise technical and legal language. In addition, every patent’s style, structure, and formatting must adhere to the particular rules of the patent office where it is being filed. Patent translation demands a level of expertise and experience that is beyond the ability of many translation providers.

Over the years, we’ve compiled five “pillars of success” patent attorneys should look for – and ultimately require – for any patent translation project to succeed:

  • Highly specialized human capital
  • Centralized processes
  • Terminology management
  • Quality control
  • Advanced technology

Taking the time to make sure a patent translation service provider can offer these elements will help ensure the security of the intellectual property and make a potentially complicated process run efficiently and effectively.

So, let’s discuss these pillars in more detail:


1. Highly specialized human capital

Ask the providers you’re reviewing what qualifications the translators working directly on your projects have. Every person that comes in contact with the patent should, to a large extent, be specialized in the target language, the technical nature of the patent, and the filing requirements of each individual country. Ideally, the translators should be native speakers of the target language with advanced degrees in language translation or linguistics, as well as various technical fields. They should also be:

  • Driven to continually keep up to date with the terminology and developments relevant to your customer market segments
  • Knowledgeable in multinational patent translation requirements
  • Experts in the rigid translation and documentation processes

This ensures that you receive the most accurate, highly specialized, secure, and timely translations.


2. Centralized processes

How do you manage your translation projects? Do you have translation teams around the globe – each managed by local and independent foreign agents – or do you already have some form of centralized process? 

Even with all of the latest technologies on the market, some patent firms still continue with the inefficient and often frustrating decentralized model comprising dozens of translation teams around the globe – each managed locally, without coordinated project management or cross-team collaboration. This often leads to higher costs, increased human errors, lower productivity, and a general absence of transparency in project advancement and deadlines.

Look for a translation service provider that consolidates translation tasks from independent teams and agents to interactive teams that report to project owners at your firm. This will streamline the translation process, maximizing enterprise budgets with increased volumes of quality translations produced by fewer employees and external agents. This gives your enterprise customers a strategic advantage over competitors.

“But I already use a centralized process,” you say. Does it include the other pillars mentioned here? If not, keep looking. Otherwise, you likely suffer from many of the same issues faced by those that have never used a centralized translation model before: lower quality translations that often contain human errors and inconsistencies, higher costs, and decreased productivity.


3. Terminology management

Speaking of centralized processes, look for a translation service provider that includes a centralized terminology management system across all countries and languages relevant to your enterprise. If you don’t have this, you risk more errors and possible omissions in your patents.

Ask the providers you’re evaluating whether they are willing to:

  • Coordinate the development of glossaries and dictionaries
  • Research and develop terminology databases
  • Edit, review, and update terminology on a consistent basis
  • Integrate terminology databases into their advanced technology systems
  • Develop and implement style guides

Terminology management is a critical step in the translation process. Establishing a common terminology database prior to translation is vital to improvements in quality, timing, and expense control.


4. Quality control

For patent translation projects, quality is achieved through a defined process that includes translation, edits, and reviews performed by multiple professionals all with the required specialized training and knowledge relating to the patent being translated (See Pillar 1). This quality process ensures that the intellectual property is protected and the translations are accurate.

As discussed previously, with patent translation, even a single word can jeopardize the protection of a client’s IP. When only one translator attempts to translate and edit a patent, the benefits of this multiple-person, comprehensive process are lost.

In addition to ensuring that more than one specialized translator reviews the translation, ask the translation provider what quality standards and certifications they have achieved. Here are a few to consider:

EN 15038 Global Certification: This certifies the translation process according to the European and German standard. It demonstrates a translation company’s effort to establish the best procedures for creating a high-quality translation. The standard defines the requirements of the translation service provider in regards to personnel and technical resources, quality control, project management, client contract parameters, and management methods for providing service.

SAE J2450: This translation quality metric established by SAE International for the automotive industry.

LISA: This quality assurance model is designed to promote the best translation and localization methods for the software and hardware industries. While the Localization Industry Standards Association (LISA) is no longer active, their standardization methods are still widely used as the benchmark for quality translations.

ATA Metric: This method was developed by the American Translators Association to be used as an evaluation tool to test the quality of a translated text. A “strong” or “standard” score on the text correlates with an IRL Professional Performance Level 4 or 5, respectively.


5. Advanced technology

There’s an ongoing debate about whether humans or machines should be translating documents, but with patents, it’s a no brainer. Humans win every time. Only humans can fully understand the nuances of the target languages. However, this doesn’t mean that technology should not play a big part in patent translations. While you likely don’t care about the specifics, here are a few general translation-related technologies that ensure greater accuracy and quality for your patents:

Translation memory software is extremely helpful, allowing translators to reuse and leverage past translations. This saves time and costs for translators and the enterprises.

Terminology management software ensures the integrity of existing terminology and builds new terminology databases for a client’s individual language translation projects. This software can capture terms and track the source of the term, the date the term was entered, who entered it, and other related information. Some can even suggest terminology “on the fly” and allows the updating of new terminology databases while translation occurs.

Translation workflow management systems recognize the source languages, target languages, document attributes, and other project-specific items, and will automatically associate the source files with the most pertinent translation memories and dictionaries.

Project management tools enable project managers and team leaders in a global, distributed work environment to work collaboratively and effectively on translation projects. They can also schedule and track each project task from beginning to end – so all parties know the status of each project at any given time.

Doing your homework now – and ensuring your translation service providers adhere to these five pillars – will help eliminate the risks and ultimately protect your clients’ intellectual property throughout the filing process.

It should also help you sleep better.



Warning & Disclaimer: The pages, articles and comments on do not constitute legal advice, nor do they create any attorney-client relationship. The articles published express the personal opinion and views of the author as of the time of publication and should not be attributed to the author’s employer, clients or the sponsors of

Join the Discussion

3 comments so far.

  • [Avatar for Lyle Ball]
    Lyle Ball
    November 8, 2012 03:38 pm

    You bring up a great point. At MultiLing, we spend every day finding the type of specialists you mention (those with advanced degrees in technical fields who can translate into their first language and who are also experts in the filing process). That sort of human capital is crucial to successful IP translation, and we know of no law firm anywhere in the world with more volume or quality of translators to chose from than those with whom MultiLing has partnered with already. Focusing on these highly specialized teams of translators is one of our main differentiators as a translation service provider.

  • [Avatar for Polish translator]
    Polish translator
    November 2, 2012 06:24 pm

    Centralization of processes that’s the clue for success in this business!!!

  • [Avatar for MaxDrei]
    October 31, 2012 07:57 am

    Who should translate patent claims? Because claims define the scope of protection, translation is a matter of delicacy and expert professional patent attorney judgement. The traditional business model uses patent attorneys, and those studying for patent attorney qualifying examinations, translating only into their first language, and only in a technical field where they have bachelor or higher university degree competence. Biotech PhD’s don’t translate telecoms cases, and IT PhD’s don’t do biotech cases.

    Where to find such people? MultiLing? I’m not sure about that. Local patent law firms? Sure.

    Mr Ball, you’re glad I raised that point, aren’t you?