A new benchmark for patent translation

15 May 2017 - No comments »

Since 2013, the EPO has offered Patent Translate, a free to use translation tool that allows anyone interested in patents to gain access to a world of patent documentation in other languages. Recently the service has undergone a change that has improved this service even further, thanks to a new technology called Neural Machine Translation (NMT).

Traditionally, we’ve offered instant translation of patent documents for 28 official languages. Now, using an artificial neural network developed by Google, NMT has been applied to patent data in eight of these languages, in addition to English (Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish and Turkish). Essentially, weighted significance is applied to each word, based on context and meaning and the system is able to continually learn. In terms of both accuracy and fluency, the new neural machine translation solution is producing significant improvements in the quality of translated texts.

This remarkable progress has been due in part to the long standing co-operation that has been fostered actively between the EPO and Google. In a recent speech, one of Google’s machine translation experts stated plainly that working together with the EPO had been a key step in achieving the quality that Google can offer with the machine translations. One aspect of this success is the sheer amount of data that the EPO has been able to provide. A prerequisite for good machine translation is the existence of high-quality human translations between the two languages concerned. The computer can analyse these human translations and learn from them but to do so, the computer needs a lot of translations. In fact, the EPO has set a threshold of several tens of thousands human translations in a language “corpus” before it considers offering the language in Patent Translate.

It is impossible to overstate the importance of Patent Translate in a patent system which relies on knowing whether or not similar inventions already exist elsewhere in the world. In fact, one of the very purposes of the patent system is to disclose new technologies to others. For over a century, these disclosures have only been accessible to people who could understand the language they were written in. Thanks to Patent Translate, the EPO can offer the content of patent documents from all over the world to users everywhere. In choosing Patent Translate, they are assured not only of quality, but also of a secure service protected from eavesdroppers. Those using the service have the peace of mind that their online behaviour will not be analysed and their rights to data protection upheld.

Patent translation not only supports innovation by providing access to technical information, but it also represents a massive potential leap in productivity and efficiency. Back in 2013, one study we carried out led us to estimate that it would take 16,000 man-years to translate the Chinese patent documentation available at the time into English. Patent Translate provides all that documentation instantly – and the additional documents published since then – in English, French and German. They also have a level of quality that makes it easy for readers to understand the nature of the invention.

Our usage statistics are also showing that the investments we make in Patent Translate can have an effect not just in Europe but on a global scale. A large proportion of the 15 000 translation requests we receive on average every day come from India, Japan, Russia and the United States, in addition to those that come from the EPO’s member states. It is also those same EPO Member States that have been instrumental in supporting these developments by providing patent documentation.

Neural Machine Translation takes automated translations to a new level. In the future, more and more languages will be using NMT technology so that we can continue to bring cutting edge translation services for patents to all those who need them. You can try the service for yourself here. I am convinced that you will be as impressed as I am with the quality of the translations.

Benoît Battistelli

  • Share this post:

Older posts

Supporting the PATLIB network

This week I was pleased to speak at our annual PATLIB conference, where participants from Europe’s PATLIB centres gathered in their role as providers of patent information. With nearly two hundred professionals present from across the EPO member states, the event has established itself as a focal point in the PATLIB agenda since the first […]

Improving lives through innovation and patents

Today the world is celebrating the benefits that are brought by intellectual property. Seventeen years on from its launch by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), this year’s theme for World Intellectual Property Day is ‘Innovation – Improving Lives’. Nowhere have we seen that link more explicitly than at the EPO, where patents have protected […]

Trilateral yields harmonisation progress

Last week I was in Seville for the meeting of the Trilateral Heads of Office and Trilateral and Industry meeting, which the EPO had the pleasure of hosting. Over the course of two days, the Offices made clear advances through the input of industry in talks with the Heads of the EPO, USPTO and JPO. […]

UPP: Parliament hearing shows continuing support

Last week I was in Brussels to speak at a hearing on the Unitary Patent organised by the European Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee (JURI). It was a pleasure to be able to return to speak to the members of the Committee to inform them on the state of play and also to provide an update […]

40% more patents granted as quality rises further

Earlier this week I was in Brussels to present the EPO’s annual results. There we welcomed more journalists that we have ever had present at this annual press conference. Media coverage has already proved expansive with reports from major outlets analysing the main trends – a positive sign of the wider interest in European innovation. […]

The BoA: New President, new era

This week the EPO welcomed Carl Josefsson as the new President of the Boards of Appeal. It is a great opportunity for a judiciary that has been reformed to enhance its efficiency and to further assure users of its independence. This new era opens under the leadership of an experienced patent judge. Indeed, previous to […]

New improvements in quality

This week I am pleased to report that the EPO recently hosted the first meeting of an additional new committee to work specifically on quality. Although the EPO has been holding meetings of the Standing Advisory Committee before the European Patent Office (SACEPO) since 1979, this is the very first time that a sub-committee has […]

The rights and obligations of an international organisation

Last Friday the Supreme Court of the Netherlands conclusively endorsed the EPO’s immunity and the validity of its legal framework. It follows a case originally brought before the national courts of the Netherlands by one of the EPO`s trade unions, which asserted that it had no means to legally challenge recent reforms within the Office. […]

2017: Consolidating gains, further improvements

Yesterday, I was able to discuss the EPO’s priorities for the coming year at a special event with our staff. It was an opportunity to review the developments of the last twelve months in a meeting in Munich, attended by over 350 staff members and viewed online by employees throughout the organisation. Almost one year […]