Reviewing patent translations requires specialized knowledge

Last week a new client sent us an external review of one our sample patent translations. The reviewer was a competent JA > EN translator who meant well, but clearly had no experience in patent translation, which is a highly specialized translation sub-field.

The reviewer thought it was a mistake that we hadn’t rendered 前記 as aforementioned. Since patent claims are chock full of 前記, the reviewer revised our document by introducing aforementioned throughout the text. For example, the reviewer rendered 前記終了コマンドを示す第2の2ストローク移動 as the aforementioned second two-stroke movement indicating the end command.

Unfortunately this “correction” is a disaster on two levels. First, it introduces a significant error into the translation, since in this case the 前記 applies to the command, not the movement. The correct translation is a second two-stroke movement indicating the end command.

Second, 前記 should never be rendered as aforementioned in patent claims. In Japanese patent language, 前記 simply marks an element as having been previously mentioned, and by convention is rendered the in the English translation. In the past 前記 was sometimes rendered as said, but in the last twenty years, the has come to be the preferred translation because it makes the claims more readable.

The lesson is that clients should check to make sure that the linguists they hire for translation and review work understand the conventions and idioms in the particular field that is to be translated.