Patents – and East-Asiatic languages

As part of Competitive intelligence I always look at patents to see what is actively being developed, what the new trends are within various fields. East Asiactic countries such as Japan, China and Korea are issuing  patents at an amazing rate.
It is obviuosly important to be able to read these patents, both to avoid reinventing the wheel and to avaid cvostly litigation for infringement, so the various machine translation software covering Asian languages are useful to get a better idea of the content.

But errors can creep in that make huge diffeneces to the meaning of a patent. An example is given  the June/July Issue of Research Information, the word ‘cycle’ in a technical patent had been translated as ‘bicycle’Which completely distorted the meaning of the patent.

For engineering topics I can have a look at the diagrams to get an idea of the patent contents, and most patents have an English abstract by the time they are loaded into e.g. Espacenet, but reading the claims is more of a challenge.

The conclusion is that until machine translation is perfected it will be necessary to use human skills to make sure that the translation is correct. And, as important, that the human is someone who understands the patent.

But, help is at hand!

In today’s global economy no patent searcher can afford to ignore patent literature from East Asia. More than half the patent applications filed worldwide every year are written in Japanese, Chinese or Korean. And it is not only the language barrier that makes patent information from East Asia difficult to access and interpret.

As a special service to European industry, the EPO has set up an East Asia Helpdesk, staffed by experts in the Japanese, Chinese and Korean patent systems, who perform searches in original language patent databases for customers or offer advice on the efficient use of free internet sources.