16 April 2013
Last week, in Paris, I put my signature to a Memorandum of Understanding between the EPO and the Institut français on the subject of French language training. Similar agreements for English and German, the EPO’s other two official languages, were signed in March with the British Council and the Goethe Institute. They represent a further concrete step in the implementation of the Cooperation Roadmap which the EPO drew up in 2011 with the aim of enhancing the European patent network. This strategic objective is being pursued through a range of measures, in particular by the provision of training for national patent office staff and other key actors in the patent system, including patent judges and aspiring European patent attorneys.
What is the purpose of these agreements? When the EPO was created, six of the seven founding states had English, French or German as a national language. The situation today is very different: the EPO now has 38 member states, 27 of which do not have an EPO language as an official language. This issue needs to be addressed, to remove the potential language obstacle for EPO job applicants and trainee patent attorneys from these countries. The three non-exclusive MoUs, signed with specialised institutions that have a broad network in Europe, will make it possible to provide tailor-made courses in the field of patents at local level, in close partnership with national patent offices.
In other areas, too, the EPO has invested systematically to lower the language barrier. This is the case, for example, in patent information, with the ongoing implementation of Patent Translate, our free machine translation service, which facilitates access to the vast stock of technical documentation in our databases. The system already offers 14 language pairs, including English-Chinese, and further languages are in the pipeline.
The language training programme is a very recent development, but it is already active and I am confident that the measures will make a real difference.