Translation Agency, Freelance Translator, or Machine Translation?

Translation has traditionally been one of the more over-looked aspects of the patent and intellectual property business, but with the IP landscape continuing to grow and expand across international borders, it has become a vital part of the overall "IP workflow." Whether it's translating a patent application for filing in another country, patent examiners at the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) researching an application's "patentability," or supporting patent litigation, if you've never had to procure a high-quality, cost-effective translation before, know that it is not always an easy task.

As a buyer of translation services, whether you are a patent attorney, paralegal, patent agent, researcher at an IP services firm or even an inventor, there are a few tips to help you get the most for your money when it comes to translations!

Translation Agency, Freelance Translator, or Machine Translation?

There are three main options when it comes to obtaining a translation, with each having its own set of advantages and disadvantages. First of all is going with a translation agency. The advantages of using a translation agency are typically an integrated, comprehensive quality control process (usually based on the industry standard of "TEP" - Translation, Editing & Proofreading, all done by separate linguists), the ability to provide "certified" translations, and the capacity to handle larger volumes in multiple languages and across a wider spectrum of subject matter expertise.

The main disadvantage of a translation company is usually price - of the three options presented here this will usually be the highest cost option, though as described the risks associated with the other options can mean that the higher initial cost is well worth it., Contracting with individual freelance translators is another option, and usually less costly than working with a translation company. If you pursue this route, however, be prepared for the need to commit a significant amount of time to project management, as you will not only need to field any queries from the linguist, but often times coordinate with one translator and one separate editor per translation project.

Also, if you frequently handle patents in a wide variety of technical fields and languages, you would need to recruit and develop a fairly large pool of qualified linguists in order to meet your needs. Not to mention, most freelance translators have numerous clients, so when your urgent translation need arises, their time may already be booked. In the end, the amount of time necessary to manage all of these factors and contingencies can yield a hefty cost. Lastly, many freelance translators prefer to work through translation companies, as it affords them a degree of anonymity as well as relieves them of all of the associated administrative burdens, including invoicing and payment collection. If you do choose to explore this option, though, there are a number of resources online to find translators, such as the American Translators Association (ATA) website directory. The last option is the cheapest of the three, but also carries the most risk - machine translation. Machine translation technology, or translation software, has improved significantly in recent years, and does have some applicability to patent translations. Within the last couple of months, there have been a number of reports about the EU Patent Office submitting content to Google to feed into its "Google Translate" program to help boost its accuracy, and while some of the better machine translation programs can give you a fairly reasonable idea of the content of a foreign-language document, they still don't come close to a professional, certified translation, which is often required for patent application filings, litigation, etc. If, however, you only need to get the gist of the meaning, machine translation may be a viable option.

How to pick the right translation vendor!

So, working with a translation company is probably your best bet. If you do decide to move forward with one, you want to make sure you select the best one to fit your needs, which usually involve cost, turnaround time, communication & customer care, and quality.

The translation industry is a rapidly growing one, and competition is often fierce. With a low barrier to entry, there are literally tens of thousands of language service providers worldwide. You want to make sure you choose one that is reputable, which you can determine based on the number of years they have been in the business, a listing of past clients and even references. You should also make sure that they have specific experience in the highly-specialized field of patents. Different companies tend to specialize in a few specific areas, and you really wouldn't want to deal with a company who normally handles health insurance applications to translate your patent for an advanced radiological imaging device!