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China Launches Patent Translation Tool

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News: China Launches Patent Translation Tool

China Launches Patent Translation Tool

01 May 2008

China is offering an online machine translation service for patent searchers

The Chinese-to-English translation engine was launched on April 25. It was developed by the State Intellectual Property Office (SIPO) and the China Patent Information Center (CPIC).

The service allows English language searching for bibliographic data and abstracts of published Chinese patent documents and utility models. The translation engine is now open to the public for testing and SIPO wants to collect feedback to help it improve the service.

SIPO says that it launched the translation tool to meet global demands for Chinese patent information.

In just 20 years, China has become the fifth largest patent office in the world, measured by the number of patent applications filed. Patent filings by Chinese residents grew more than five-fold between 1995 and 2004 to reach 65,786. In 2006, the IP Office handled more than half a million requests for invention patents, utility models and design patents.

The rapid growth in patenting by Chinese nationals - as well as by Japanese and Koreans - has raised concerns in patent offices in Europe and the US that speakers of European languages are ill-equipped to find prior art in Asian languages.

Speaking to Managing IP just before she took over the presidency of the EPO in July last year, Alison Brimelow explained why she was keen to explore new ways of collaborating with other offices and users during the patent examination process.

"It goes further than just managing numbers, I would say. It's also about confidence in the system - and it's about the other ghastly elephant in the room: are you sure you understand all the prior art, which given the growth of the Chinese Office, people almost certainly don't," she said.

SIPO's new translation tool should go some way to resolving this problem. The JPO and KIPO already offer online translation tools.

However, translation specialists say that machine translations cannot - as yet - provide a comprehensive solution to all of the patent community's language problems. This is because they are far from being able to provide patent translations of a high enough quality that would allow them to substitute manual translations.

Instead, they provide a simple translation that allows users to decide whether it would be useful to request a full, manual translation.

This shortcoming is likely to be especially true of the Chinese translation tool, because the relatively loose grammatical structure of the Chinese language poses a particular problem for developers of automatic software tools. This is because understanding much of the meaning of a particular Chinese word depends on the context in which it is written - a difficult task for a computer carry out.

"From what we have seen so far, more patience is needed," Irene Schellner, a language specialist at the EPO, told Managing IP in January. "SIPO is working on it but they are very impatient and at the moment the system is not comparable with the results obtained from the Japanese system."

Since then, however, SIPO appears to have made sufficient progress on the development of the software for it to release a test version of the system.

On the same day, SIPO also launched a Chinese language search engine called the Intelligent Retrieval System of Patent of Design of China. The system is based on image retrieval and can return images based on shape and colour.

SIPO says that there are more than 4 million images in its database with the world first retrieving technology.

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