The European Patent Office (EPO) signed a Memorandum of Understanding on 30 November to use Google's machine translation technology to translate European patents into the 38 languages it serves. While this will not replace the current translation regime, which can require patent owners to translate their patents into a variety of languages, it may pave the way for reduced translation costs in the future and even overcome some of the hurdles which are currently preventing the creation of a single pan-European patent.
Google have indicated that it is not expecting any immediate financial profit from the arrangement, but it will put them at the forefront of patent translations allowing users from a large number of countries to access information in an effective way. The technology "learns" language by comparison with prior translations, and the large catalogue of EPO technical information is likely to improve the quality of the translations over time.
For now, it is likely that the patent specification as sanctioned by the patent owner will form the basis for the formal rights rather than an un-authorised machine translation, but it will allow people to more easily determine the relevance of foreign language patents. Overall, this is an interesting development and potentially a stepping stone to better information access and cheaper European patent rights.
If you would like to get more information on how this might impact your European patent strategy please contact Steven Gurney at FB Rice & Co.