It's the Translation Costs, Right?
Japanese companies have
much better success in getting U.S. patents than U.S. companies
have in getting Japanese patents. Assuming, no doubt, that this
must be due to unfair practices on the part of the Japanese,
Senators Rockefeller and DeConcini asked the General Accounting
Office to look into the specific reasons behind this US-Japan
To get the answers, the GAO asked U.S. patent attorneys to
describe their problems. One oft-mentioned problem was poor
translation quality. Another was the high cost of translation.
Yep, you heard right: attorneys, of all people, think translators
charge too much!
There are ways to reduce patent translation costs. In Japan, much
of the translation is done by patent attorneys. You may not be
shocked to learn that patent attorneys charge more than
translators. We translators would like to suggest that both the
cost and the quality of translations could be improved by having
translators, not attorneys, do the translating. It is easy to
think of other ways to reduce translation costs: translators
could screen documents to eliminate unnecessary translation, or
they could check translations for accuracy, eliminating the back-translating
which is so common today.
Such measures would reduce translation costs, but they would
not correct the US-Japan patent imbalance. The fact is, the GAO got it wrong:
translation costs are not a very big part of the problem. Consider the
It is safe to say that essentially all
Japanese patent attorneys working with U.S. patents read English, but only a
handful of U.S. patent attorneys working with Japanese patents read Japanese.
U.S. courses on patent law are well-attended by
Japanese patent attorneys, but most U.S. patent attorneys are forced to learn
Japanese patent law by reading the little bit of English that has been written
In other words, the Japanese have a huge
advantage: their attorneys can and do learn our patent system very well, but
most of our attorneys cannot learn theirs. The solution is obvious, but
not easy: U.S. patent attorneys who intend to work with Japanese patents need to
learn to read Japanese.
Can't be done, you say? You may be wrong. The
ATA's own Jim Davis, the administrator of the Japanese Language Division, runs a
successful program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison that teaches
engineering students to read Japanese. This program should be even more
successful with patent attorneys than it is with other technical course students
because they usually spend a bit longer in school. Programs like Jim's
could offer the best hope.
Senators, if you wanted excuses, you asked the right folks.
If you wanted solutions, you should have asked Jim Davis.
|Gerry Gooding is an ATA-accredited Japanese-to-English
translator and a registered U.S.
patent agent. He lives in Huntington