Machine Translation in the Patent Industry

Machine Translation is becoming an increasing issue in the worldwide patent industry. In a landmark step towards increased use of worldwide patent information on the internet, the Commissioner of the Japan Patent Office (JPO), Yoshiyuki Iwai, and the President of the European Patent Office (EPO), Benoît Battistelli, have signed an agreement on 6 February 2012 which will provide users of the patent system with better machine translations of patents from Japanese into English and then into German and French. The agreement significantly enhances the scope and quality of Espacenet, the public patent information service on the EPO website, by adding an automatic translation tool.

The significance of patent information has grown steadily with the creation of a global technology market reflected in a new record of 1.8 million patent filings worldwide in 2010. Despite the economic downturn, filings at the EPO increased again in 2011 to 243,000, with Japan accounting for 19%. The agreement ensures these applications will be readily available for innovative companies, to the particular benefit of small and medium-sized enterprises and research institutes. It is also expected to improve the quality of patent applications, as users will be able to take better account of Japanese prior art.

Back in March 2011, the EPO signed a long term agreement with Google to collaborate on machine translation of patents into multiple European, Slavonic and Asian languages. Under the partnership, the EPO uses Google Translate technology to offer translation of patents on its website into 28 European languages, as well as into Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Russian. The EPO provides Google access to its entire corpus of translated patents to enable Google to optimize its machine translation technology for the specific language used in patent registrations.

In our opinion, machine translation is an issue wherever principal information on patents is needed quickly and without legal aspects. When it comes to patent filing and other legal procedures, human translation by experts in the relevant technology field is essential. It is important to note that patent lawsuits are often the result of poor and inaccurate translation work.