Improving the patent system

29 March 2011

The patent system is sometimes portrayed as a monopoly-granting machine which is both expensive and difficult to use. That is hardly a balanced view, of course, but I do acknowledge that we must keep working hard to improve access to patent information and to make the system more affordable, especially for European innovators and SMEs.

Last week, I had the opportunity to deal with two inter-connected projects which have the potential to improve things considerably: machine translation in the patent field, and the unitary patent for the EU.

On 24 March, in Brussels, it was my pleasure to announce the signature of a partnership agreement between Google and the EPO on machine translation of patents into multiple European and Asian languages. This agreement is the result of 4 months of negotiations following signature of a Memorandum of Understanding at the end of November. It is not a commercial or financial deal; it is a partnership in which we will pool our technology and know-how in order to offer the best possible service to the public, free of charge and straight from our website. The first language pairs should be available in the coming months, and all the European languages – plus Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Russian – should be covered by the end of 2014.
During my stay in the European capital I was also able to meet several representatives of EU institutions, present the EPO to them and discuss their expectations for implementation of the unitary patent. I was particularly impressed by the determination of the MEPs I met to achieve results in the near future.
So all in all it was a good week for the two main aspects of the patent system: as a tool to boost economic competitiveness and as a means of promoting innovation through the dissemination of technical information.

Benoît Battistelli


  • Share this post:

Categories: Patents
Tags: , ,

4 comments on Improving the patent system

  1. Monoglot says:

    "The first language pairs should be available in the coming months, and all the European languages – plus Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Russian – should be covered by the end of 2014."

    This is a very useful development, and I have enormous respect for the EPO in liaising with Google in this field. A great example of the public sector delivering valuable services by taking advantage of the efficiency and innovation found in the private sector.

    Let us hope that this agreement will also allow moves toward simultaneous translation of the public record of the written procedure into other languages, such that Applicants and interested third parties in contracting states and elsewhere can easily ascertain the state of any given European application, regardless of their nationality or tongue.

    I wonder whether the EPO intends to give clearer guidance on when we can see this platform coming on line, and what the language pair goals and milestones in the short, medium and long term will be.

  2. Andre says:

    I thought the EPO is based in Munich, not Brussels?

  3. Viktoria says:


    I have a few questions.
    1. If you are going to introduce the translation system, will the requirement for examiners to know good three languages (English, French and German) still be necessary or just to know English will be enough? Examiners can also use the same translation system – right? and to know three languages on B1/B2 level is not really necessary.
    2. The patents that are submitted has to be written in English, French or German. Recently, a lot new countries that do not speak a.m languages have joined EPO. People that live there and speaking other languages are in current situation discriminated. They do not have the same rights as the ones that live for example in France, Germany etc. Are you going to do something about this issue?

    • Moderator says:

      Dear Reader,

      1. Like most other international organisations, the EPO has a number of different official languages (English, French and German in our case), and EPO proceedings can be conducted in any of them. Changing this would require a diplomatic conference; it is laid down in the European Patent Convention (Article 14). That is why our examiners need to be able to work in all three.
      Our MT project, on the other hand, aims to create a tool for machine translation into and from our three official languages. MT output may not reach the level of human translation but it will certainly facilitate the identification of prior art written in many different European and Asian languages, and public access to that wealth of technical information.
      2. Interestingly, several European countries with the highest rates of patenting activity (measured as the ratio of European applications to their populations) do not have an EPO official language as their national one. So I do not think the language issue is a real hurdle. In practice, in any European country, the drafting of patent applications is highly technical work which is usually done by specialists who will certainly know at least one of the three EPO official languages. At the same time, some arrangements to assist users of non-official languages already exist. For example, in order to keep its priority date a European patent application can be filed in any language, as long as a translation in one of the three official languages is provided subsequently. The EPO also applies a 20% discount rate to certain fees when the original document has to be translated into one of its official languages. Furthermore, the future unitary patent, covering 25 member states, will operate a compensation scheme for translation costs. Other support measures can be more efficiently implemented at national level by individual EPO member states, using their 50% share of the renewal fees for European patents validated there. Lastly, through its co-operation policy, the EPO also supports various activities in this area which are defined by the national patent offices of our 38 member states and implemented at national level.

Leave a comment

Please only comment in English, French or German. Your email address will never be published.