Why You Need Competent English to
Chinese Legal Translators
When Doing Business in China

The Ongoing Need for Accurate English to Chinese Legal Translation Services and Chinese to English Legal Translations

We’ve blogged about seven outrageous legal translation errors that changed lives throughout history. Legal mistranslations are very common when doing business in China. About 5% of legal disputes in China reportedly happen due to legal translation mistakes that often lead to significant economic losses.

Chinese to English Legal Translation Errors

The most disastrous mistranslations of Chinese legal documents often occur due to the translator’s lack of knowledge and understanding of the appropriate legal system. In 2010 the People’s Court of Jing’an District in Shanghai Municipality heard the case concerning dispute over a five-year employment contract between an Italian executive and his Shanghai-based employer. The focal point at issue came to be the English translation of the Chinese legal term “termination”. This term “termination” in the Chinese version of the employment contract was mistakenly rendered as “dissolution” in the English translation. Unbeknownst to the novice translator who had translated this employment contract from Simplified Chinese into English, “dissolution” differs vastly from “termination”, and has different implications in China’s law system, therefore, giving rise to a different set of claims within the Chinese legal system.

The Italian executive, who had lost his case in the arbitration proceedings, did not realize the root cause of his failure until he appealed the case to the People’s Court of Jing’an District, where the presiding judge detected the wrong English translation of this Chinese legal term and offered a convincing explanation to the Italian executive during the court hearing. Not until then did the Italian executive understand the difference between “dissolution” and “termination” in the context of an employment contract. When the Italian executive rendered resignation on his own initiative, he did not know that such act would disentitle him to the compensation that he assumed had been stipulated in his employment agreement. Had he not been misled by the erroneous Chinese to English legal translation from the very start, he would have planned his move in a more sensible manner, legally speaking.

English to Chinese Legal Translation Mistakes

English to Chinese translation errors- both in the English to Traditional Chinese translations and in the English to Simplified Chinese translations-  often occur in the realm of intellectual property document translations. Specifically, an omission in translating some technical feature set forth in the source text, may lead to an augmentation of the scope of trademark protection, or an inappropriate addition of some technical feature into the target text may result in a curtailment of the scope of trademark protection. On many occasions, IP translation mistakes are rooted in misinterpretations of some technical terms. For instance, there have been occasions when the name of a chemical compound was wrongly translated. In another case, the term “connecting piece” in the source text was rendered into Chinese as “hinge” mistakenly, resulting in a substantial change in the scope of trademark protection.

Another typical mistake in legal translations from English into Chinese is the rendition of the indefinite article “a” or “an”. Technically speaking, it is not advisable to render “a” or “an” in the English source text into “one (specific) piece” or “one (specific) sort” in the Chinese translation, since the indefinite article contained in the English source text does not connote anything in respect of quantity.

Reportedly, in the case of KCJ CORPORATION, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. KINETIC CONCEPTS, INC. and KCI Therapeutic Services, Inc., Defendants-Appellees before the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, it has been made clear that the indefinite article “a” should be construed to mean “one or more” in pursuance of the overriding principle of interpretation of Patent Claims. Sadly, inexperienced legal translators in China are apt to translate “a” or “an” invariably into “one (piece)” or “one (sort”).

In the case of FreeMotion Fitness vs Changzhou Yingcai Metalwork Fitness Equipment Co., Ltd. and Shanghai Energy Fitness Co., Ltd. pertaining to the dispute over an alleged infringement of the patent for invention (source: Annual Report of the Supreme People’s Court of the People’s Republic of China on Intellectual Property Cases in Year 2014), the indefinite article “a”, appearing time after time in the Patent Claims of the patentee, was translated in each of its appearances as “one” in the Chinese version. Due to this semantically narrowed translation, the patentee was forced to interpret “a” to be “one or more” when requested to justify its claims. To that end, the patentee had to adduce the dissimilarity between an independent claim and a subordinate claim in terms of their interpretations, and also highlight the way of interpreting an open-ended claim and the interpretation of the original text that the PCT had made available to the public. However, all the patentee’s efforts failed. In retrospect, the patentee realized that its Chinese translator’s narrowing rendition of the indefinite article “a” not only impeded it from safeguarding its legitimate interests in the course of legal proceedings, but also contributed to its losing the case.

It follows that hiring a competent English to Chinese legal translator who understands the semantic nuances of tricky legal terms in  Mandarin, Cantonese and English is very important for your success doing in business in China – the fastest-growing marketplace on the planet.

Contact All Language Alliance, Inc. to obtain certified translations of EB-5 documents from Simplified Chinese to English and from Traditional Chinese to English, Mandarin to English translation of PRC’s laws and for other legal translation services.

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