The World Intellectual Property Organization has developed a new patent document translation tool based on neural machine translation technology and has recently released a beta version for testing purposes. While the technology has already been trained to translate Chinese, Japanese and Korean patent documents into English, the beta version is currently only available for Chinese-English translation purposes.
Automated patent document translation tools already exist. For example, the Patent Translate feature of Espacenet (the patent document database of the European Patent Office) was developed in collaboration with Google Translate and is capable of machine translating documents between English, French, German and 29 other languages. Patent Translate is a popular tool and enables clients and attorneys alike to gain a rough understanding of a foreign-language patent document in a short space of time. However, machine translation tools are not 100% reliable and often have particular difficulties with translating East Asian languages such as Chinese or Japanese. For that reason it is always advisable to have a patent document professionally translated where costs permit, especially if the translation is to be relied upon in a legal context.
Nevertheless, WIPO believes that its new Translate tool is capable of reproducing a more natural document style and syntax than existing machine translation technologies. WIPO has focused on the translation of Chinese, Japanese and Korean patent documents into English because these languages account for the majority of international patent filings (for example, 55% of worldwide patent filings in 2014) and because traditional translation tools have particular difficulties with such so-called ‘distant language pairs’.
WIPO plans to extend the neural machine translation service to cover other languages in the near future. While it is unlikely that machine translation tools will completely replace the need for professional human translators anytime soon, users of the international patent system will undoubtedly benefit from the existence this new tool.