The Intellogist Blog has had the opportunity to interview a number of experts on patent searching, patent data dissemination, and patent landscape studies. The patent environment provides a broad field for many types of professionals to practice their specialties, and each niche in the patent field requires a unique set of strengths and talents. The patent translator profession is a particularly tricky field to navigate, since patent translators need an eclectic set of skills (both language and scientific). New technologies, like machine translation, are also transforming how patent translators work and when their skills are needed.
The Intellogist Blog recently interviewed Sonja Olson, Director of Translation Services at Landon IP, about what skills she thinks are necessary for a translator to succeed in the patent field. We also interviewed three patent translators about their experiences in this unique profession. Today, we’ll look at Sonja’s views on the patent translation field and a profile of the first translator interviewed for this piece. Without further ado, let’s look at a profile of a patent translator.
Sonja Olson, Director of Translation Services at Landon IP
Joelle Mornini: Can you give us a brief description of your own background in translation services?
Sonja Olson: Translation services has been my career for the last 12 years or so. Before joining Landon IP, I specialized in end-user technical documentation, particularly in the fields of electronics and heavy machinery. Unlike many people in this industry, I’ve never worked as a translator: my career has been entirely project management!
JM: What is the ideal educational or career background for a patent translator?
SO: Ideally, your educational and/or previous career background should prepare you for a career in your technical specialty. So, for example, the best medical translators are those with medical training, such as former nurses. Many technical translators working on mechanical texts have engineering backgrounds. Obviously, you need to be fluent in the source language, and a native speaker of the target language. But no matter how fluent you are, you can’t translate something you don’t understand.
JM: What traits must a patent translator possess to succeed in the field?
SO: Some of them are the same traits any translator needs: the ability to thrive as a freelancer, meaning that s/he enjoys the challenges of being self-employed. Meticulous attention to detail is important; organizational skills are vital; time management is an often-overlooked asset. (All translation Project Managers are used to dealing with very talented translators who think the deadline is the opening bid!)
There are some skills that are unique to patent translators. They should be able to conduct a basic prior art search, in order to learn the background of the invention. They should be able to take the drawings and glean the same sort of information from those that one of our analysts could. Many of the linguistic decisions have already been made, given the formulaic language in a patent, but they need to be able to write acceptable “patentese” in the target language.
JM: How has new translation technology changed the work done by patent translators?
SO: In some ways, not that much. So many patent publications are only available as scanned PDFs, which means that our use of CAT (computer assisted-translation) tools is limited, compared to technical documentation. (By the way, that’s also going to continue to be a challenge for Machine Translation taking over the world; Google Translate can’t see it until you OCR the text, which introduces all sorts of errors into the source file.) But now, you have all these online portals for locating prior art, technical glossaries, and so on; you can collaborate with colleagues online and turn to peers in real time for advice. I know that sounds really basic, but it’s huge! In the past, translators used to have vast libraries of nothing but source-target dictionaries. (Many of them still do, for sentimental reasons. ) And those dictionaries were all they had. If it wasn’t in there, they’d have to find a dictionary that did have it, or make an educated guess.
Leonid Gornik – English to Russian/ Russian, Ukrainian, German, French and Italian to English
JM: Can you give us a brief description of how you became involved in translation services?
Leonid Gornik: I started translating for pay when I was a student in Moscow Civil Engineering Institute. I translated technical articles for professors and postgraduates from English and French. After graduation, I moonlighted for various organizations in Moscow offering translating and abstracting services. My clients were foreign trade organizations, scientists, research institutes, etc. I collected over 100 technical/legal dictionaries.
JM: When did you begin translating patent documents? How is the process of translating a patent document different from other translation jobs?
LG: I started as a patent translator (freelance) with Central Patent Information Institute (Moscow, Russia) in 1964. First English-Russian, then French-Russian and Italian-Russian. They were the only company to provide centralized patent translation services for Soviet organizations and for the Committee in charge of all patent/trademark activities in the country. I also translated many documents regarding PCT, WIPO, and IPC.
In 1966 I started working for the Chamber of Commerce (they had a department providing translations of all patent documentation/correspondent/litigation related to USSR patents abroad and to prosecution of foreign patent applications in the Soviet Union). From 1971, I started translating patent applications and correspondence from Russian into English, and later from French, Italian, and German into English for the Chamber of Commerce and other organizations.
Since 1985, I drafted patent applications for filing in the US for Russian inventors. I became a Russian Patent Attorney #12 as soon as the registration started in Russia in 1993. I authored a number of patent dictionaries Russian-to-target and target-to-Russian with a few other translators.
JM: What skills or knowledge are needed to successfully translate a patent document?
LG: The first requirement is “patent literacy.” You have to have a technical background in at least one branch of science/technology, and you have to know how to use dictionaries and search tools. An absolutely important thing is to have terminological skills. You also have to know both the source and target languages well enough in order to avoid “translator’s traps.” Not any translator, however good he/she is, is capable of translating a patent document well without some sort of prior training/learning. I was not trained, but I learned and read a lot.
JM: How has new translation technology changed the work done by you and other patent translators?
LG: Apart from the obvious general advantage offered by the use of computers and software, I would mention search engines, citing Google first. CAT’s do not provide a big deal of help because I translate a vacuum pump patent today and an anti-inflammatory agent tomorrow.
To Be Continued…
We’ve looked at the skills necessary to succeed in patent translation, from the point of view of a translation manager and a patent translator. Both linguistic and scientific knowledge were mentioned by Sonja and Leonid as necessary for the proper translation of a patent document. Patent translators also utilize a wide range of tools, including dictionaries, online collaboration with peers, and the somewhat-controversial CAT tools.
Next time, we’ll speak with another patent translator about her professional background and experiences in the patent translation trade. What do you think are the traits and talents needed to become a successful patent translator? Let us know in the comments!
This post was contributed by Joelle Mornini. The Intellogist blog is provided for free by Intellogist’s parent company Landon IP, a major provider of patent searches, trademark searches, technical translations, and information retrieval services.