Profile of a Patent Translator, Part 2

[tweetmeme source=”Intellogist” only_single=false] In our last installment of Profile of a Patent Translator, we spoke with Landon IP Translation Manager Sonja Olson and patent translator Leonid Gornik about what traits and tools a professional needs to succeed in the patent translation profession.  What did we discover?  A professional patent tranlsator needs:

  • Linguistic knowledge
  • Scientific knowledge
  • A wide variety of tools, including dictionaries, online collaboration with peers, and computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools.
I recently had the chance to ask the same questions I discussed with Leonid to a second patent translation professional,  Lisa Louis, who specializes in Japanese-to-English patent translations.  Read on to learn about Lisa’s experiences in the translation profession and her views on necessary skills and tools  for a patent translator!

 

Joelle Mornini:  Can you give us a brief description of how you became involved in translation services?

 

Lisa Louis: I lived in Japan for 5 1/2 years, and during my time there, worked at a magazine office where I sometimes had to translate small items while working as an editor.  When I came back to the US, I worked for a Japanese high tech company in the technical documentation department.  I started out as a tech writer and editor, and ended up managing the group, but in the process, was asked to translate hundreds of pages of technical standards as a side project.  I was given lots of time, access to work with bilingual engineers, and basically was given the opportunity to get on-the-job training as a translator for years, which gave me a taste for translation.

 

By the time I left, I’d added a new translation section to the tech doc group, so I also got to hire independent translators and proofreaders and run the equivalent of a mini agency within the company, which was great experience.

 

JM: When did you begin translating patent documents?  How is the process of translating a patent document different from other translation jobs?

 

LL: I’d been doing some side translation projects when I was at the high tech company, and then took the plunge as an independent translator.  I had to take patents as at least a portion of my translation projects, and at the time was always chanting “My Brain Hurts” a la Monty Python, because they seemed like such painful documents to deal with.  Now they are my favorite projects, and if I had a choice, I’d only translate patents.

 

Well written patents are very logical, and follow a set pattern of rules. A good patent should make it possible for even a layman to get the gist of how a piece of technology works.  When translating patents, there is more of a tightrope to walk in terms of not only following the original text exactly, due to legal ramifications, but still trying to make it sound relatively smooth in the target language.  Many translators dislike translating them because they involve very particular rules and limits to how much smoothing one is allowed to do with the final translation, but after translating several thousand pages of them, I think they’re great!

 

JM: What skills or knowledge are needed to successfully translate a patent document?

 

LL: For me, spending several years at a semiconductor engineering company and attending some electronics classes and seminars as an employee was a huge plus for working on semiconductor and electronics patents.  However, most of us translators are not engineers.  Nor do we have the opportunity to take a lot of technical classes, so the key thing is to have a very good sense of logic, the ability to get a sense for how a piece of technology works based on the language as well as technical diagrams, and to be able to break language components down into logical components and shift them around in a way that will still make sense in the target language.  Knowing the basic format and flow of patents is very useful for a translator.

 

JM: How has new translation technology changed the work done by you and other patent translators?

 

LL:  I still haven’t found translation software to be particularly helpful with patents.  However, the ever increasing access to patent databases, multiple online dictionaries, and search engines that allow a translator to compare and research terms, phrasing, and technology in more than one language at once is a huge plus for this work.  The internet not only gives a wide range of supports for translation; it also allows translators to output a better end document.

 

More to come…
  Lisa gave us excellent insight into how on-the-job experience can help a translator develop the technical knowledge necessary to translate patents.  Although Lisa doesn’t often use CAT tools in her translation work, she does illustrate how the internet has opened a new avenue for collaboration between translators and a way to quickly access online reference tools.

 

We have one more installment of Profile of a Patent Translator, where we’ll discuss the background and view points of a final patent translation professional.  How will this final translator’s experiences compare with the backgrounds and views of Lisa and Leonid?  We’ll have to wait and see!

Technical Translations from Landon IP

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.

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