English translations improve access to Chinese innovation

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The number of Chinese patent applications are increasing by around 30 per cent each year. Siân Harris reports back from the Online Information meeting about how patent information providers are helping people around the world to access and use this information

China was the buzzword amongst patent professionals and patent information providers at the Online Information show in December. This mood was captured on the first day of the meeting, with a Thomson Reuters lunch reception to mark the launch of the latest version of Thomson Innovation.

Version 2.0 of the patent and research information platform boasts several new features. These include improved analysis and visualisation functions and better administration to help patent information professionals charge their usage of the service to different clients or budget codes more easily. Despite these and other enhancements however, the main excitement was over the inclusion of English translations of the titles, abstracts and all claims for Chinese utility models and Chinese applications.

To mark this news, the venue for the Thomson Innovation reception was decked out in Chinese lanterns, paper dragons and red banners with Chinese characters. The conversations over the Asian-style food also focused on the possibilities of having greater insight into Chinese innovations and development. The Chinese patent authority is already in the top five patent authorities in the world and it is also the fastest growing, so information about its patents is seen as crucial for patent information users.

Over the past year Thomson Innovation has had several enhancements to its Asian coverage. Last February, for example, the Derwent World Patent Index (DWPI), which forms part of Thomson Innovation, added more Asian information. This was followed with the addition of Japanese utility models via DWPI last April and then with Korean utility models in August.

The latest development includes English translations of bibliographic data, author titles, abstracts and all claims for all Chinese applications and utility models from 2007 to the present.

Such resources have already been available for Japanese. However, whereas the English versions of Japanese information are generated by an internal machine-aided translation system, the Chinese information is done by several hundred people working in China.

Thomson was not alone in talking about Asian information in value-added patent services. At Online Information, FIZ Karlsruhe, the European component of the STN International partnership, announced the provision of patent information from China, Japan, and Korea on STN International. The Derwent World Patents Index files, from Thomson Reuters, also form a core part of STN International’s patent resources. Now they include all the claims for Chinese and Korean patent applications and utility models in English. They also include the first claim for Japanese applications and utility models in English.

Original content from the relevant patent authorities is first published in DWPI First View within days of publication, said FIZ Karlsruhe. The bibliographic content and patent claims, some of which are machinetranslated, are then reviewed by patent information specialists at Thomson Reuters and enhanced DWPI Titles and abstracts are prepared outlining the novelty of the invention. The records are indexed with Thomson Reuters’ classification system and the bibliographic metadata is corrected where necessary to eliminate errors found in the original patents.

Meanwhile, Minesoft and RWS Group are also extending the Asian coverage in their patent database PatBase. A few weeks before the Online show, the two companies announced the addition of a non-Latin text search engine to PatBase.

This development means that users around the world can search for keywords in non-Latin languages including Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Russian. In addition, say the companies, PatBase’s machine-translation options have been further enhanced. Additional languages have been added, as well as new options to help users handle foreign languages. These include the addition of GoogleTranslate, which gives users a wider language choice and offers an alternative to the internal PatBase machine translation. The two translations can then be compared, which helps users to understand the meaning of a patent.

Information for free

The idea of using more than one approach to retrieve and make sense of information in Asian patents is one that Christine Kämmer echoes. She works with Chinese patent information at the European Patent Office (EPO) and was another of the speakers at Online Information.

In her presentation, Kämmer described some of the free tools available to handle patent information from China and how to get the best of out them. She encouraged users to try a combination of resources to get the most complete picture of the Chinese patent landscape.

Daphne Grecchi, education consultant at Thomson Reuters, speaks to potential customers at the Thomson Innovation 2.0 lunch reception

The first stop on her tour of free access Chinese patent information was the EPO’s own patent platform esp@cenet. This includes bibliographic data for Chinese documents dating from 1985, as well as English abstracts (for Chinese invention patents). PDFs of the full documents are also available – in Chinese – but there are some gaps. While most unexamined documents are included, the granted documents only date back to 2002 and the very recent publications are also missing. Likewise, legal status information is currently only available for PCT documents.

Information in English is also available directly from SIPO, the Chinese patent authority, said Kämmer. In addition to Chinese patents and utility models from 1985, SIPO’s website includes English abstracts for patents and bibliographic data for utility models. A Chinese-English machine translation tool is also being trialled on the site. Again, there are drawbacks, however: the English information is only updated quarterly and there is a time lag of four to six months between publication and the availability of an English version on SIPO’s site.

The time lag is reduced to three to four months with an alternative source of this information, the China Patent Database (CNPAT) from SIPO’s China Patent Information Center (CPIC). This also offers English abstracts for patents, bibliographic data for utility models and a trial of a Chinese-English machine translation tool, as well as links to the full documents. This service is updated monthly.

There is another option too, the C-Pat Search from SIPO’s Intellectual Property Publishing House (IPPH). Launched in April 2008, this service offers human translations into English of Chinese patent abstracts and machine-translated abstracts of utility models. It also offers bibliographic data for designs, links for the full documents and a trial version of a Chinese-English machine translation tool. English legal status information is also given. This source is updated biweekly and has a time lag of two to three months.

Such a list of services would seem to provide many of the answers that users might want from Chinese patent information, but it is not quite that simple. As Kämmer pointed out in her presentation, there is no complete update or coverage information available and there is a risk of overlooking relevant information when searching with English keywords or names. The machine translation tools are also still in a trial stage. What’s more, special plugins must be downloaded if users want to display the original SIPO documents.

Kämmer went on the suggest that to get a more complete picture of what is going on, users should always combine different sources with different translation tools and compare the results. She also said that users should brave the Chinese interfaces. ‘English is easier but it can also help to search the Chinese information,’ she explained. She showed how, even without any language knowledge, it is possible to find information from the latest publications, which are updated every Wednesday, such as the current legal status information and which patent owners have paid their fees. The full documents can also be retrieved. She also suggested that users could get an idea whether a patent is of interest by copying and pasting its abstract into a free online translation tool.

For those feeling nervous about Chinese interfaces, though, she did offer some hope: users are welcome to contact the EPO’s Asian team for assistance and the EPO also offers regular training courses in using Asian information. As Kämmer observed, ‘We can’t continue to ignore this vast array of resources.’

Further information

For more information about any of the patent sources mentioned in this article see:

Thomson Innovation: www.thomsoninnovation.com
STN International: www.stn-international.com
PatBase: www.patbase.com
esp@cenet: ep.espacenet.com
SIPO: www.sipo.gov.cn/sipo_English
CNPAT: search.cnpat.com.cn/Search/EN
C-Pat Search: English.cnipr.com/enpat
The EPO’s Asian team: asianinfo@epo.org