Posted by: patenttranslator | January 5, 2012

Translator-Friendliness of Patent Office Websites (JPO, EPO, WIPO) Is Improving

Most people don’t remember this anymore but a couple of decades ago, people used to send documents to translators by fax. If this document was a second or third generation fax of a Japanese patent, the details of many complicated characters became completely illegible, rendering translation impossible. In fact, because Japanese patents were often filed by fax until the late seventies, the resolution of original old patent applications that are available on the JPO (Japan Patent Office) website is still often not very good.

Fax resolution has not improved much in three decades, which is one reason why not many people still use fax. But unlike in the eighties or even early nineties of the last century, clearly legible patent documents can now be easily downloaded from the websites of JPO, EPO (European Patent Office), WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) and other websites of major patent offices in seconds and for free.

To my knowledge, JPO was the first major patent office that started offering free machine translation into English in the March of 2000. It was later followed by the EPO and WIPO websites. But these websites now provide in addition to clearly legible copies of patent applications, which can be downloaded as PDF files or as HTML files and other forms, also machine translation (MT) of patent applications into English (JPO, EPO, WIPO), or into English and many other languages (WIPO).

Although JPO has the oldest interface for downloading and searching and for the MT function, or maybe because of that, JPO has what is in my opinion one of the most cumbersome interfaces, although the interface of the German Patent Office (GPO) seems even more cumbersome and counter-intuitive. You have to keep clicking, 5, 6, or 7 times before you can switch from an English page to a Japanese page and vice versa.

The JPO website system seems to have been designed based on the premise that there are two kinds of people in this world: People who are Japanese and who therefore use the Japanese part of the website, and people who are not Japanese and who will therefore use the English part, sort of the variation on the “East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet” concept.

Thanks to the Internet, the world is now a really crowded meeting place of different languages and cultures. But when I am on a JPO search page in English and click on the icon “Show Japanese Document”, the document is shown at such a low resolution that is as poorly legible as second or third generation faxes of Japanese patent applications used to be 25 years ago. I have to go back to the Japanese part of the website and keep clicking on different icons several times before I can display a legible Japanese document.

To save myself clicking on multiple icons, I usually download now even Japanese patents from the EPO website, instead of going to the JPO website. I usually also download a machine translated version of the Japanese text into English, which makes it easier for me to estimate the likely English word count in my translation. The actual English word count will be higher because MT ignores among other things the title information since most of it already available on the site as an Abstract document, as well as tables, flowcharts, words in figures, etc., because MT can’t handle these forms yet.

If you are a beginning patent translator, you can explore the various functions available on the JPO, EPO and WIPO sites through my website here. If you translate from European languages, in particular from French and German, you can also explore the Find Patents Worldwide link here, or the links to the French Patent Office and German Patent Office on my website. But I think that the easiest way to download most patent documents in different foreign  languages is to simply download them from the EPO (European Patent Office) website.

The WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization in Geneva, Switzerland, which is a United Nations Office) website offering what I consider the easiest interface for navigating the website of a major patent office. WIPO also offers 3 different machine translation systems for translating with the MT function (see a short discussion on my blog here) between many languages. When I entered “Schnittstelle”, which is the German word for “interface”, in the search field on the EPO website, there were four hits and four patent applications including the word “interface” were displayed in English. When I typed “Schnittstelle” on the WIPO website, there were 5,001 hits, and patent applications were displayed in English, German, and other languages.

In fact, if you click on the “Options” and then the “Interface” icon on the WIPO website and then replace the “Simple” option with the “Translator” option, you can confirm this option as your “default option form”, which means that the results for any query will be shown by the PATENTOSCOPE system for “Titles” and “Abstracts” in parallel in all languages available in the system (usually in English, French and German – these are summaries translated by human translators, not machine translations).

That’s what I call a translator-friendly system. About 25 years ago when I lived in San Francisco, a local translation company (Benemann Translations – it does not seem to exist anymore) asked me to come to their office to assess the “translatability” of a Japanese patent faxed by a law firm to their office. I had to take the 38 bus on Geary to Market Street, and then the elevator to the office, only to confirm that nobody would be able to translate the blobs on the faxed pages that must have been clearly legible Japanese characters at some point. I wasted a whole hour 25 year ago in this manner only to return home without a patent to translate.

Times have certainly changed. Internet and machine translation made translating much easier for human translators in many respects. Since translation of patents by experienced patent translators is such an important part of the patent filing and patent litigation process, this is a very welcome development and I hope that it will continue.

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