The language regime as intended for the European Unitary Patent is described in the Draft Council Regulation implementing enhanced cooperation in the area of the creation of unitary patent protection with regard to the applicable translation arrangements (I take the latest known version from Document 18855/2/11 dated December 12, 2012). In Recital 11 thereof we read:
In order to promote the availability of patent information and the dissemination of technological knowledge, machine translations of patent applications and specifications into all official languages of the Union should be available as soon as possible. Machine translations are being developed by the EPO and are a very important tool in seeking to improve access to patent information and to widely disseminate technological knowledge. The timely availability of high quality machine translations of European patent applications and specifications into all official languages of the Union would benefit all users of the European patent system. Machine translations are a key feature of European Union policy. Such machine translations should serve for information purposes only and should not have any legal effect
This apperars to be, well, courageous not only because of such advanced technology is not available today but also because of it is not clear if it can be achieved anyway in any foreseeable future. Meanwhile, an interim language regime is to be created as described in Recital 12:
During the transitional period, before a system of high quality machine translations into all official languages of the Union becomes available, a request for unitary effect as referred to in Article 9 of Regulation (EU) No …/2012 should be accompanied by a full translation of the specification of the patent into English where the language of the proceedings before the EPO is French or German, or into any official language of the Member States that is an official language of the Union where the language of the proceedings before the EPO is English. Those arrangements would ensure that during a transitional period all European patents with unitary effect are made available in English which is the language customarily used in the field of international technological research and publications. Furthermore, such arrangements would ensure that with respect to European patents with unitary effect, translations would be published in other official languages of the participating Member States. Such translations should not be carried out by automated means and their high quality should contribute to the training of translation engines by the EPO. They would also enhance the dissemination of patent information.
Please note that the patent claims will be available anyway in the wording of the language of the proceedings and, by high quality translations, in accordance with Rule 71 (3) EPC in both other Official languages of the EPO as well. The Regulation discussed here covers the translation of the specification only.
Hence, in practice I’d expect to see two main scenarios evolving:
- The specification of European patents marked as “Unitary Patent” and processed in English as language of the proceedings will, in many cases, be translated into German.
- The specification of European patents marked as “Unitary Patent” and processed in German as language of the proceedings will, in many cases, be translated into English.
Of course, there will be many other language pairs but in terms of quantity I think the above-listed pairings will form sort of mainstream. In detail, there will be a tension between two legal requirements:
- On the one hand, such translations of the specification shall not have any legal effect (cf. also Article 6 Para. 1 and 2 of the Draft Regulation). This encourages applicants (and their professional representatives) not to spend too much effort and, hence, money on translating the specification. The benefits of the compensation scheme as provied under Article 5 of the Regulation are not available for this sort of translations required under Article 6. Under these circumstances, the applicant or the professional representative in charge with the proceedings might be tempted to prepare the translation based on some sort of machine translation e.g. via Google or so.
- On the other hand, as we learn from the Recitals, lawmakers explicitly have uttered that such translations should not be carried out by automated means and their high quality should contribute to the training of translation engines by the EPO. However, there appears to be no sanction in case of non-compliance if e.g. a machine translation is filed during the transitory period, and the translation will have no legal effect at all.
In order to play the game, perhaps even a general practice might emerge amongst applicants and their professional representatives by utilising Google to translate the text of the specification in a first step for generating a raw translation which is then followed by a second step of minimum cursoirly human intervention, e.g. by fixing all-too-broken phrases manually.
According to Article 6, Para. 5, the fiddling with semi-human translations will be over 12 years from the application of the Regulation at the latest. Recital 13 reads:
The transitional period should terminate as soon as high quality machine translations into all official languages of the Union are available, subject to a regular and objective evaluation of the quality by an independent expert committee established by the participating Member States in the framework of the European Patent Organisation and composed of the representatives of the EPO and the users of the European patent system. Given the state of technological development, the maximum period for the development of high quality machine translations cannot be considered to exceed 12 years. Consequently, the transitional period should lapse 12 years from the date of application of this Regulation, unless it has been decided to terminate that period earlier.
But what if after 12 years reliable machine translation for complex technical texts still is unavailable?
Well, I’m afraid the users of the EU Unitary Patent system simply will then be required to stick with what is technically available at that time, be it inadequate or not.
In this context it should, however, not be forgotten that in the event of a patent dispute a reliable human translation will be available under Article 4 of the Regulation.
Axel H. Horns
German & European Patent, Trade Mark & Design Attorney
The k/s/n/h::law blog
Some of the patent attorneys of the KSNH law firm have joined their efforts to research what is going on in the various branches of IP law and practice in order to keep themselves, their clients as well as interested circles of the public up to date. This blog is intended to present results of such efforts to a wider public.
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