Patent resources take on Asian challenge

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As the number of patents filed by Asian countries grows rapidly, researchers elsewhere in the world are struggling to find, understand and work with this information. Siân Harris finds out how some companies are helping to meet this need

‘Asian patent information is not just interesting, it is critical. Researchers around the world cannot afford to ignore this growing hotbed of innovation,’ says Rob Adams, senior director for DWPI (Derwent World Patent Index) at Thomson Reuters. ‘As the number of patent filings and grants from Asian nations skyrockets (as is evidenced by the Thomson Reuters projection that China will surpass Japan and the United States in its total patent filings this year) it is critical that professionals pay attention to what is happening in this region of the world.’

DWPI has taken on this global challenge. The database, which forms the basis for many patent information resources, covers patents from 44 countries and authorities. This includes Asian patent content with English titles and abstracts from China, India, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam. Adams explains that this list continues to grow, with records from Hong Kong due online this year.

On top of this resource, many companies have added a range of value-added services to help researchers to interpret and do more with patents around the world. Thomson Reuters’ own value-added patent platform, Thomson Innovation, also includes English translations of full-text patent information for China, Japan and South Korea. In addition to DWPI data, Thomson Reuters also offers IP Services. A team of IP practitioners with advanced degrees in their areas are available to provide assistance in things like outsourced research, translations and consulting engagements related to Asia, or any other area of the world.

And Thomson Innovation is not the only way to access DWPI. Researchers can also access this data through the online hosts Dialog, Questel and STN, which also help with interpreting Asian patent information.

‘The major international database producers have made significant investments in recent years to extend their coverage to Asian sources and have thus coped with the dramatic increase in patent and other STM information,’ observes Rainer Stuike-Prill, vice president of marketing and sales for FIZ Karlsruhe, STN Europe. ‘The two big producers of value-added patent information, CAS and Thomson Reuters, have opened up Chinese, Indian, Japanese and Korean patent information using in-depth intellectual indexing, which is indispensable, especially for chemical and pharmaceutical content. It was STN’s highest priority to implement these outstanding information sources in the best way possible.’

He adds that additional Asian patent offices, such as Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, have also started to be covered in the value-added databases.

Language challenges

Helping researchers to access and use patents from around the world, and especially from Asia, is not without challenges, however. ‘The challenge [for researchers] is to find a resource that provides this content in a reliable, timely manner, and in a language that can be universally understood, such as English,’ points out Rob Adams.

‘As more than 50 per cent of the patent applications being filed globally are now in non-Roman characters (and more than 58 per cent of patents now originate in China, Japan or South Korea), there are real challenges for non-Asian researchers,’ he continues. ‘Researchers need to know, with confidence, that their service provider has native-language speakers doing translations and/or a translation system that understands the nuances of Asian characters and can identify documents that are purposely trying to be concealed. Most on-the-fly translation software packages do not provide the level of reliability that is required for patent research.’

Rainer Stuike-Prill, FIZ Karlsruhe, STN Europe

A related challenge is timeliness. Once the data is released from an Asian patent authority (this can sometimes be several months from when it is filed/granted) it needs to then go through the translation and review process. According to Adams, this leads to an inherent lag time. ‘The reliability of the translation source, and speed at which it can translate the records, is critical,’ he adds.

Quality and quantity

Ann Chapman, director of Minesoft, which produces the international patent family database PatBase in partnership with RWS Group, notes some other challenges with Asian patent information. One of these is the sheer volume of Asian patent documents that needs to handled, with filings set to increase year on year. She points out that China, for example, has a goal of two million annual patent filings by 2015.

‘A second challenge is the quality of the original data,’ she continues. ‘If the source data is of poor quality, mistakes such as misspellings or unclear punctuation could be translated (and the mistakes passed on to the user).

There are also some challenges for Asian researchers in accessing patent information from elsewhere in the world. ‘For researchers in Asia, if the patent search tool being used only has an English language user interface, this can prove an early hurdle in terms of being able to navigate and understand how to use the tool in the first place,’ says Chapman. ‘Even if this problem is overcome, researchers can then be faced with the secondary challenge of not being able to search in their language – which may render the data inaccessible.

‘We recognise that patent specialists from countries such as Japan and China appreciate being able to read patents in their own language in PatBase, which has offered a Japanese user interface from the outset. Equally, we understand that researchers outside of Asia need to understand the information they retrieve.’

Recent developments to PatBase include: the introduction of non-Latin text search forms (now available for Japan, China, Korea and Thailand); the ability to cut/paste non-Latin text from retrieved records and search directly in the command line; the integration of machine translation engines (allowing users to get a machine assisted translation of any patent’s full text in a huge variety of languages, including Asian patents); and the inclusion of the Japanese F-term classification system.

Thomson Reuters also caters for the needs of Asian researchers, for example, by providing a Japanese-language version for search and retrieval of international patent information for Japanese speaking researchers, via Thomson Innovation. ‘We also developed and utilise a highly-sophisticated translation service in Thomson Innovation to translate patent information into many languages, including Chinese, Japanese and Korean,’ adds Adams.

Ann Chapman, Minesoft

‘Many Asian search professionals do read/speak English, so reverse translations – from English to an Asian language – is currently not as critical an issue as it is for non-Asian researchers with Asian characters. Asian researchers are typically able to understand what’s happening outside of their area more easily than people trying to understand Asian innovation,’ he continues. ‘A main challenge for Asian researchers is to know that the solution they are using has the most comprehensive, accurate and timely global coverage. Also, they tend to look for local support teams, should they want to speak to someone in their native language.’

The future

So, what is next for patent information from Asia? ‘The trend of recent years showed an over-proportional increase in research publications and patent publications from Asian countries, in particular from China,’ observes Rainer Stuike-Prill of FIZ Karlsruhe, STN Europe. ‘Most likely, this trend will continue and China will outperform the USA, Japan and Europe in this respect. The Chinese Patent Office plays an important role in the collaboration of the major patent offices of the world, and thus will have an increasing influence on the further development of the patent system.’

Rob Adams agrees about the future role of China in patent activity. ‘Many Asian nations are still in the early stages of industrialising and promoting innovation. Even China, with its explosion in patent activity, is a newer entrant to the world of intellectual property – China’s current IP system was introduced in the mid 1980s. Nevertheless, the Chinese government has had the foresight to implement initiatives to promote patenting and the importance of intellectual property protection, as is evidenced in its recent release of the National Patent Development Strategy (2011 – 2020), which unveils incentives and tax breaks for those who innovate. This is likely to result in China becoming an even greater contributor to the global IP system.’

Adams also identifies the importance of other Asian nations such as South Korea, which is home to some of the world leaders in innovation like Samsung and LG. ‘More innovation and technology are expected as the economy grows and international relations stabilise,’ he points out. ‘Compound this with the emerging nations, like Vietnam, and the sophistication and continued prowess of the original IP leader, Japan, and it is clear that Asia and Asian patent information will continue to grow in their importance to professionals doing global research and discovery.’