The European Patent Office (EPO) provides an extremely powerful, and free-to-use, patent searching tool called Espacenet (available here). Using the various search options provided on the home screen, it is possible to search for published patents and patent applications using keywords, patent publication numbers, and patent classification codes. Discovered patents can be viewed and downloaded in PDF format, and patent family information (applications in other countries) and status information is also available.
Now, thanks to the EPO’s PatentTranslate initiative, a combined effort between the EPO and GoogleTranslate, Espacenet can also be used to translate published patent descriptions and claims between European languages, and in some cases, even Chinese and Japanese. The EPO discusses PatentTranslate on its website. At present not all documents appear to be translatable into all languages. However we expect that moving forward, more and more translations will be possible.
The need for automatic machine translations will certainly increase as, more and more, people expect to be able to search and review patents online. As the internet knows no international borders, it is frustrating to find a document in another language and not be able to understand it. Additionally, a sophisticated machine translation tool will be needed in order to reduce any potential language problems when (or if) the European Unitary Patent system comes into force. The EPO has committed to providing such a machine translation service, and hopes that in the early years (the transitional period immediately after the unitary patent system enters into force), its translating software will be trained by human generated translations filed by applicants for a unitary patent at the same time as they make a request for unitary patent protection.
Try It Out!
In order to see the translation system at work, a document first needs to be displayed on screen. Entering a patent or patent application number, such as DE4100141, into the Publication number field of the Advanced Search box in the home page, will pull up the “Result List” page for the number entered. Clicking on the displayed title brings up a page of bibliographic data for the now discovered application, including an abstract in the full screen view. On the left of this screen is a navigation menu containing an option to download the PDF document of the application, called “Original Document”, as well as further options for viewing the application “Description” or published “Claims”. Selecting either of these pulls up the appropriate text, though be aware, the Espacenet published version may not be the most up-to-date version on the official file at the EPO. The text is in character form and so can be cut and pasted if you wish.
For this example, click on “Description” to bring up the German text of the application. At the top of the text on the page is a drop down menu for the translation languages that are available and a red “PatentTranslate” Go button to start the translation. Clicking here replaces the text on the screen with the corresponding text in the selected target language. Not all languages are available. For DE4100141A the only option is English for example, though we expect the coverage to gradually improve. Et voila (or perhaps we should say Hier ist es!), an English translation of the German document is now displayed on screen. Once the translation has finished, you can indicate the quality of the translation, allowing the EPO to improve its service.
The published and translated text should not be relied upon strictly for legal purposes (it may not have been accurately input, may not be up-to-date, and it may not have been translated correctly). Nevertheless for information purposes, it is an extremely useful tool, and should help all of us foreign-language-challenged English speakers in our day-to-day work with patent documents published beyond our borders.
This article is for general information only. Its content is not a statement of the law on any subject and does not constitute advice. Please contact Reddie & Grose LLP for advice before taking before any action in reliance on it.