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Poor Quality Translation Can Seriously Undermine Your Patent Rights

A patent translation process that includes a final review by a patent attorney is crucial to avoiding the risk of valuable rights being lost in translation. Not only can poor quality translation undermine patent validity but it also exposes the patent owner to unnecessary legal and financial risks. For instance, when seeking to rely on that patent to enforce a monopoly on innovation. A recent case before the Court of Rome provides a stark reminder to any business that is not already alert to the threat

What if the Italian patent translation does not match the text of the European patent?’ was the question at the heart of the recent dispute between TEMA Technologies and Materials and Schluter System (TEMA v. Schluter) over the validity of a European patent (as translated) in Italy.

Italy is one of the countries that require a mandatory translation as part of the European patent (EP) validation process, a step that can add cost—and risk—if not managed appropriately.

The Big Impact of Small Errors in Patent Translations

We have previously covered how even a single, mistranslated word can threaten a company’s ability to enforce its patent rights. This was again the case in TEMA v. Schluter, which hinged on a discrepancy between the use of ‘and’ and ‘or’ in the translated text. The European patent described “a moisture-resistant and moisture-proof foam core layer”, but this had become “a moisture-resistant or moisture-proof foam core layer” in the Italian translation.

TEMA sought to argue that this rendered the entire patent invalid. In defense, Schluter (the patent owner) was limited to arguing that the patent was not invalid but instead restricted to what has been covered by the translation (although, as the Court noted, the translation had, in fact, made the claim broader). 

While the Court did not ultimately hold the patent as translated to be invalid in this specific case, the ruling still reinforces the importance of obtaining and verifying high-quality translations as part of the EP validation process. As the Court discussed in its findings, ‘serious mistakes in translation’ can result in a patent being declared invalid, while lesser mistakes still risk limiting the scope of protection of a patent (if the translation has been relied on by third parties before a correct version is filed). 

In both scenarios, the patent owner will have incurred costs and anxiety that otherwise could have been avoided.  

Language Errors Affect All Types of Businesses

It is not only in the patent field or in translation that a minor difference in wording can have massive consequences. Thanks to a missing comma in U.S. labor law, one company had to pay its employees $5 million more!

Language errors that may seem minimal can have major financial repercussions for businesses in any legal context. That is why it is so vital to work with a specialist provider that brings expertise in patent translation, the technical field, and the applicable legal systems. The BIG IP patent translation process includes four levels of quality assurance, from the initial translation to the final review by a patent attorney based in the country of filing. Contact us today to discuss how we can help you safeguard your valuable patent rights during EP validation and the foreign filing process.

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