Patenticulars

31 January 2022

Patent Translate - a success story thanks to our users and co-operation partners 


Launched in 2013, the Patent Translate machine translation service has become an integral part of our range of patent information products. Currently averaging 20 000 user requests per day, it continues to be a valued source of information, helping to explain the technologies behind patent applications to our users in their own language or in a language they can understand.

Today, Patent Translate has reached a high level of translation quality. As early as 2015, the service was already able to provide translations to and from 32 languages, thus covering translations from all the official languages of the EPO's member states into English, German and French and back, as well as translation from Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Russian into English, helping users to access the enormous volume of publications in these languages. A year later, bulk machine translation started, allowing a vast collection of documents from patent families without an English-language family member to be machine-translated, and enabling users to search in Espacenet with English keywords in the full text of non-English documents, including publications from China, Japan, Korea and Russia.

With the switch to the neural machine translation (NMT) network in 2017, a new milestone was set, with experts heralding it as a step closer to human translations. In fact, the error rate was reduced by 50% compared with the previous phrase-based system. The improved quality and fluency prompted a re-translation of older EPO collections using NMT, and by mid-2020 a total of 46 million full-text patents had been translated. Since then, front file data bulk translations are done on a daily basis.

A little anecdote about Patent Translate and flying bricks

Within the last decade, the quality of machine translations has made a quantum leap. Can you still remember some of your first examples of machine-translated texts? We've found a funny literal translation from the early days of Patent Translate. It was a machine translation from English into Greek, where a brick "pick-up device" was translated as a device for bricks to "take off" and fly. 

While searching for a brick pick-up device in Espacenet, a Greek user came across application EP0238191A1. Switching to their native Greek language in Patent Translate, they were rather concerned to discover that bricks were taking off to fly! Thankfully, the user informed us and the translation was immediately corrected. Instead of taking off, the bricks stayed firmly on the ground, and were once again being safely picked up and transported by the device as intended.

Patent Translate keyvisual

Figure 1. EP0238191 in Patent Translate (click to enlarge)

Nowadays, with all the improvements in MT quality, examples like these are hard to find. It's almost a pity, although it clearly shows the extent to which Patent Translate has become a reliable tool for breaking the language barriers in patent search.

Finally, we would like to say a big THANK YOU to our many Patent Translate users, and especially to those of you who have actively contributed to making Patent Translate such a trusted source of information.

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