Last week I gave two different cost estimates to two different clients for translating Japanese patents. One document was very short, only two pages, and my estimate for translating it into English was for 240 dollars.
My price quote was accepted, I translated the short document, printed, proofread and delivered it, and I already received payment for it.
The other cost estimate was a little bit more complicated because it was an estimate for translating two very long patent applications from Japanese, each of them about 60 pages, including about a dozen pages with figures.
My estimate for this potential project was about seven thousand dollars for a non-rush translation (at the rate of no more than two thousand words per working day), or about twelve thousand words for translating both patent applications on a rush basis.
I know that when I submit estimates for expensive projects, nothing will usually come out of it because the cost is so high. But sometime I do get the job, so I do it anyway, although preparing such a cost estimate can be very time consuming. You have to be careful because while you do not want to present an estimate that is too high (because it may be compared to other estimates), you do not want to submit an estimate that is too low either because if your offer is accepted, you will be stuck with the quoted price.
The second cost estimate (for two long documents) was not even acknowledged. Maybe the patent lawyer was mad that a mere lowly translator would dare to ask for so much money (for a simple translation!), or maybe his mother never taught him that it is polite to say thank you when people do something for you, even people who make less money than you, especially if they do it for free, although it takes them a long time to do it because it must be done right.
I think what happened with the second cost estimate was this: the patent lawyer looked at my cost and time estimate, sent it to the client, and his client said something like: “What? No way, this is much too expensive! Could you use machine translation instead to find the information that you need?”
So the patent lawyer went to the EPO Website, downloaded machine translations for both long patent applications, and since the machine translations that he saw made perfect sense, he assured the patent law firm’s client that a translation would indeed not be necessary in this case.
Well, I did the same thing, because I generally download a machine translation of patents that I am translating and then look at it while I am translating, especially in the beginning when I am still trying to establish the terms that I will be using. I normally have a separate folder for each patent with several related files in it, such as a PDF file and a text file of the document, and a machine translation of the document if one is available.
Just so you know what a typical machine translation of a paragraph from a Japanese patent looks like, here is a sample:
“The provision 3 is molded simultaneously stop sliding on the occasion of this extrusion molding. As long as it is this material that has ****** and for which it produces the skid effect although the provision 3 is molded with a rubber material stop sliding, what kind of material may be sufficient as EVA, an elastomer, etc.”
The machine pseudo-translation really only makes sense if you can read the Japanese text, it is helpful to me, especially when I start translating, although it is not very helpful to a client who cannot read the original text. Which is of course why he ordered a real translation of it in the first place.
I too downloaded machine translations of the two large files from my other cost estimate, the expensive one that was ignored. When I looked at them, I could hardly believe my eyes because the translations were …. perfect. I kept looking at the Japanese text and comparing it to the English text, but I could not see anything that would need to be changed.
And then I remembered that not so long ago, when I was translating another Japanese patent, I found a machine translation on the EPO website that was also perfect. I also remembered that the Japanese patent that had a perfect machine-translated version was in fact only the Japanese version of a patent application that was originally filed in English, just like the two long patents from my current expensive cost estimate were originally filed in English.
In that other case, several months ago, the client asked me to go ahead with the translation anyway. It was a much shorter document, so the final cost was only a few hundred dollars. I was translating that document while looking at the machine-translated version, feeling rather foolish … because what was the point of translating it when the machine-translated version was so good … until I noticed a paragraph that again made perfect sense in English, but was not included in the Japanese text. And then I also found paragraphs that were there in the Japanese text, but not in what was presented on the EPO website as a machine-translated version of the same documents.
At that point I realized that the client who ordered the translation probably knew that what one can download from the website as “a machine translation” is in fact sometime the original document that was filed in English, not a machine translation.
The reason why “the machine translation” was so perfect was the fact that instead of a document translated with software algorithm, it was the original document that was written in English. Incidentally, this is what GoogleTranslate is based on: instead of using algorithms for “translating text with a machine”, it uses algorithms to search for, find and substitute a similar text in another language for a translation.
The reason why the Japanese text in certain passages did not correspond to the English text was that the “benrishi” (patent agent) who prepared a patent application originally filed in English for filing in Japan modified the text of the application in Japanese, added different content to it and removed other content from it to make the text compatible with Japanese patent law.
After a while I stopped even looking at the “machine translation” because it was too distracting.
Sometime only the claims are changed in patent applications that were originally filed in another language, sometime portions of the text, and sometime a lot of the text in the patent application is changed in this manner.
Does the lawyer who asked me for a cost estimate for those two long patent applications know that? He probably does, and maybe he even told that to the client who decided not to go ahead with an expensive translation project.
But the fact is, neither the patent lawyer, nor his client have any idea what is really contained in the patent application that was filed in Japan, because what was stored on the EPO website and presented as “a machine translation” was not really a translation at all.
It made perfect sense in English, but it only made perfect sense because it was not really a translation, let alone machine translation.