Machine translation of patents
In the European Union, there are proposals to allow patents to be filed in just one, or three, languages, and let them be enforceable across the whole European Union. This would create the undemocratic situation whereby people could break the law without ever having had the chance to read the patents in their own language.
Machine translation would not solve this problem - it would not produce official translations, only "informative" translations.
Democratic problem: law in a foreign language
If you infringe a patent, you've broken the law. If the patent was in a foreign language, you are now being held responsible by your country for doing breaking a law which was written in a foreign language. That situation is completely unacceptable.
This goes for all types of patents, but the problem is particularly acute for software patents because software is often developed by individuals and organisations with little funding, so expecting developers (mass producers) of software to hire translators is more absurd than having the same expectation of mass producers of pharmaceuticals or cars (which are always medium-to-large companies).
In the EU
The EU has confirmed that it will not consider its machine translations as official texts:
6. It is envisaged that the specification of the unitary patent be published by the EPO in accordance with Article 14(6) EPC. Without prejudice to any transitional arrangements deemed necessary, no further translations would be required. Any additional translation requirements under such transitional arrangements would be proportionate and required only on a temporary basis and not have legal value thus ensuring legal certainty for the users of the patent system. In any case, transitional arrangements would terminate when high quality machine translations are made available, subject to an objective evaluation of the quality.
Everyone will thus have to read the versions published by the EPO. If it's in a foreign language, tough luck.
Related pages on ESP Wiki
- Europe’S Software Innovation Under Threat From Patents, Oct 2010, ESP (Ciarán O'Riordan) - pages 6 and 7
- EU Patent - Background Note On Machine Translations, 6 Sep 2010, IPJur
- EU Patent: Translation Into 'Language Customary In The Field Of International Technological Research', 10 Oct 2010, IPJur
- Proposal from the Belgian presidency of the European Union (need to check this), dated 1 Aug 2010
- Dutch original: Machine translations, report from the Dutch Competition Council about the proposed EU patent jurisdiction (English translations[?]: Google, bing translator), 5 Nov 2010
- Google signs deal with European Patent Office to translate patents, 1 Dec 2010, ibmtimes.com
- French original: Google to improve its services and translate European patents (English translations[?]: Google, bing translator), 4 Dec 2010, generation-nt.com