Annual Report 2017

Language barriers fall

Six years ago, the last great barrier to patent information finally tumbled down. At the time, few users could imagine what far reaching consequences it would have - or that this revolutionary advance would be so quickly taken for granted.

Language barriers fall

Language barriers fall 2In February 2012, the EPO began to offer machine translation for patents, in a joint project with Google. The EPO provided several tens of thousands of high quality human-translated patents as "training sets" to teach Google's translation algorithm for each language pair. Google's algorithms rapidly improved, and in exchange the EPO was able to launch "Patent Translate - powered by EPO and Google".

By the end of 2013, the EPO was offering users its free translation tool in 28 European languages, plus Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Russian - a full year ahead of schedule. By 2016, users were making over 15,000 translation requests every day, following direct links from Espacenet or the Publication Server.

Language barriers fall 1

A new brain

Language barriers fall 3In the last year the "brain" behind Patent Translate has itself been improved. New artificial neural network technology provides more accurate and fluent translations, making a noticeable improvement to quality. These artificial neural networks translate words by considering the context of the whole sentence, looking for patterns and comparisons with similar texts, optimising, remembering, and learning. This capacity for "learning" leads to ever improved translation over time. Researchers, inventors and patent examiners all benefit from having access to more complete and comprehensible documentation in order to make the right decisions. The enhancements from neural machine translation are clearly popular with translation requests exceeding 20 000 per day by the end of 2017.

Paving the way for Unitary Patents

Language barriers fall 4There has been an additional benefit from Patent Translate of incalculable value: it has been the elegant technical solution to a long-standing political problem. Negotiations leading to the EPC in 1973, had been strained by arguments over what language a patent should use so as to have legal effect in a particular country, and this has remained a major stumbling block to further simplification of Europe's patent landscape ever since. But once Patent Translate made the language of a patent largely irrelevant (after all, with just one click it could be read in any other European language) the legislators easily agreed that it was no longer necessary to burden applicants for new Unitary Patents with the cost of numerous translations. The translation requirements for Unitary Patents will be the most minimal ever seen at the EPO, saving applicants time and money with no loss of rights nor any disadvantage to third parties.

Quick Navigation