Barbara Jungwirth of reliable translations llc writes about language and the business of translation.

Will new European patent law reduce the need for translations?

Today’s New York Times reports on the uniform patent system just adopted by the European Parliament. In addition to creating “unitary patents” that do not need to be validated separately in each country, it also eliminates the requirement that patents be translated into all local languages. Instead, English, German or French are sufficient. German-English translation of patent applications and accompanying technical documents is therefore no longer needed, right?

Well, yes, but only for UK English. German patent holders who want their inventions protected in the United Kingdom will no longer need to have their documents translated. But if they also want protection in the U.S., they will still need to file a United States patent application and provide supporting documents in US English. I do not specialize in patent translations, but I have occasionally translated technical documents supporting a patent claim into US English. Since these documents appeared to be used in patent disputes between German and US-based companies, the new European law should not affect the need for such translations.

The new law will certainly reduce the number of patent translations required from English, German or French into each of these or various other European languages. But patent applications or claims between some of the other European countries will still need to be translated, at least into German, English or French. So there will be some reduction in translation volume, but mostly the language mix will change.

If, for example, a company holds a patent in Italy and applies for patent protection of its invention in Sweden, it would previously have hired an Italian to Swedish translator. Now it will probably hire an Italian to English translator instead (or Italian to French or Italian to German). Since individual translators cannot simply switch working languages, the new law will certainly affect say, the Italian to Swedish patent translator who would have been hired under the old system. On the other hand, another translator who specializes in Italian to English patent translations will get this job instead.

Patent translation is a highly specialized field, so only a limited number of translators should be affected. According to the New York Times article, these specialists will have at least another year before the uniform patent system actually applies. I assume that my colleagues in this field are aware of the legal changes underway and will use that year to diversify their business, if necessary.

If you are interested in patent translation, you might want to read the Patenttranslator’s Blog (subtitled “Diary of a Mad Patent Translator”), among others.


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  • By Ava Watson on February 6, 2013 at 4:13 pm

    Ava Watson…

    Will new European patent law reduce the need for translations? | On Language and Translation…