As mentioned in my previous post, China looks to be taking another leap forward in innovation, recently overtaking other countries – including the United States – for the largest number of applications received by any single IP office (652,777), according to the World Intellectual Property Indicators 2013.

Consequently, the demand for patent translations to and from Traditional Chinese (Taiwan) and Simplified Chinese (China) continues to grow as well. This presents unique challenges when filing in mainland China and Taiwan. Adam Bigelow, who serves as the director of MultiLing’s Asia region, shared with me some of these when we sat down together last month:

How do the patent laws differ in China?

While China established protection for inventions, utility models and designs in its 1984 introduction to patent law, its 1992 amendment extended rights to microbiological products and pharmaceutical and chemical inventions. Chinese patent laws include:

  • No Mistranslation Amended: An applicant must provide SIPO with a written request, description and abstract, and a series of claims in either Chinese or English with Chinese translations included. Amendments related to errors in translation are not allowed.
  • Grace Period: There is a six-month grace period for public disclosures IF the invention was shown in international exhibitions sponsored or recognized by the Chinese government or published at certain predetermined academic or technological conferences. 

How do you go about filing for patents in China?

As in other countries, foreign entities can file for patent protection in China through either the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) or Paris Convention. To get a patent approved more quickly, the application should consider filing directly in China via the Paris Convention.

If patents have previously been granted and validated in other countries, the Patent Prosecution Highway (PPH) between SIPO and the European Patent Office (EPO) – and other important patent offices – will significantly expedite the examining procedure in China. SIPO recognizes the result of the EPO examination and may grant a patent directly on the claims that EPO allowed. Thus, if the inventor files an application with EPO first and then files the same application in China, inventors should consider filing a PPH request to expedite the examination and decrease overall costs of obtaining a patent in China.

According to a recent study by the Steinbeis Transfer Institute for Intellectual Property Management in Munich, Germany, errors in patent applications that potentially open litigation risk are most frequently found when translating patent applications to and from Chinese and other Asian languages. Why is this so?

In addition to ideographic characters, Chinese employs a radically different sentence structure than other languages with Germanic or Latin roots. For example, while English uses verb tense to indicate whether an event has happened or will happen, Chinese uses adverbs and context clues. Translation into an Asian language like Chinese requires a full understanding of the original source, followed by what some call a transcreation, done sentence-by-sentence. If the original concept in a sentence is not fully understood, the translation of that sentence will easily reveal the misunderstanding.

Other translation issues with the Chinese language include two different writing systems (traditional and simplified); not using articles such as ‘the’, ‘a’ or ‘an’; and a different way to represent plurality.  For example, Chinese doesn’t employ the concept of adding an “s” or other such letters to a noun to indicate more than one, but instead requires a qualifying phase such as “a plurality of.”

So what can companies do to ensure their patents are properly translated into Chinese?

Ensure that anyone that touches your patent applications is a native speaker intimately familiar with the Chinese language and culture, and legal systems, as well as being an experienced, technical expert for the industry and technologies specific to the innovations for which you seek patent protection.

South Korea (otherwise known as the Republic of Korea) is another Asian country increasing in patent filings – both to and from the country. My next post will address Bigelow’s insights on the legal and translation issues associated with filing patents here.