Google Translate to tackle European patents

Google has done a deal with the European Patent Office to provide machine translation of patents, covering 28 European languages and Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Russian

Google has partnered with the European Patent Office to provide machine translations of patents into various languages.

Benoît Battistelli

Benoît Battistelli, president of the European Patent Office, has welcomed an agreement to use Google Translate on patents. Photo credit: European Patent Office

The deal, confirmed by Google in a blog post on Monday, will see the European Patent Office (EPO) use Google Translate to make patents readable in any of 28 European languages, as well as Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Russian. In exchange, Google will get access to the EPO's full roster of patents, so it can optimise its automatic translation service for the kind of technical language used in such documents.

"The partnership is a big win for Europe's entrepreneurs and inventors too, as they will benefit from free, real-time translation of millions of patents granted in European countries, China, Japan, Korea and Russia," said Google Brussels public policy chief Antoine Aubert in a statement.

"Whilst the translations made by Google Translate will not be legally binding, they will offer a practical way for anybody to gain improved access to the technical information contained in patents across all EPO languages simultaneously," he added.

Translations for research

According to the EPO, there is no financial transaction involved in the deal, and the agreement is non-exclusive. The machine-translated patents should only be used for research and information purposes, the office added.

Machine translation helps to overcome language barriers and make information contained in patents globally accessible and available.

– Benoît Battistelli, EPO

"Machine translation helps to overcome language barriers and make information contained in patents globally accessible and available," said EPO president Benoît Battistelli in a statement. "The new translation tool is a further stepping stone to improving innovation in Europe, and enabling European businesses to play level with their competitors in other regions."

Battistelli also said he was convinced the use of machine translation will "facilitate the development of the unitary patent". The European Commission has repeatedly tried and failed to establish a unified patent scheme across the continent. Although the most recent failure resulted from the European Court of Justice's opinion that a central EU patent court would be unlawful, the most frequent obstacles to the unified system's establishment have been language related.

The Commission's most recent attempt to establish a single patent system was based on the idea of patents being submitted in English, French and German. However, Spain and Italy objected to this proposal, suggesting that an English-only alternative was preferable. If the Commission's recent attempt had succeeded, therefore, it would have established an EU-wide system without the involvement of those two countries.

According to Google and the EPO, "on-the-fly" patent translation between English, French and German will be available from 2011 onwards, with the other languages becoming available in phases. The project is scheduled for completion by the end of 2014.

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