Translation and Language Industry Observations

Last week we received an inquiry from Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP, a law firm in Philadelphia, PA, USA. Here is the email we received.

We are looking for a quote on getting certified patent translation to English for nine patents: one China, one French, six Japanese, and two Korean. We would like to know how much it would cost and how long it will take (and if there is a rush option, please let us know). These are the patent numbers.


The Growing Importance of Non-English Patents

Some of the patents that Morgan, Lewis & Bockius needed to translate were 20, 30 and even 50 years old. Why did they want to translate these files into English?

Emergence of Global Innovation Hubs: As countries like China, South Korea, and Japan continue to rise as technological powerhouses, the volume of patents filed in languages other than English has seen a remarkable increase.

Globalized Marketplaces: Companies looking to expand internationally need to be aware of patents filed in local languages to avoid potential infringement issues and to gauge competition.

Shift in Patent Filing Trends: Countries like China have surpassed the U.S. in the number of annual patent filings, emphasizing the importance of non-English patent literature.

Technological Advancements: With the rise of industries like electronics, robotics, and telecommunications in East Asian countries, a significant portion of patents in these sectors are now in non-English languages.

Global Benchmarking and Competitive Intelligence: Companies often monitor the patent activities of competitors globally. By translating patents into English, businesses can gauge the technological advances and strategic directions of competitors, even if those competitors are in non-English speaking countries.

Patent Filing and Prosecution: For companies seeking to file patents in multiple jurisdictions, understanding the specifics of prior art in various countries is crucial. Translating non-English patents can provide valuable insights, ensuring that new patent applications are both novel and non-obvious.

Litigation and Enforcement: In patent disputes, it’s vital for legal teams to understand every detail of the patents involved. If a relevant patent or a piece of prior art is in a different language, it must be accurately translated to be properly analyzed and presented in court.

Licensing and M&A: Before licensing technology or engaging in mergers and acquisitions, companies need to thoroughly evaluate the patent portfolios of potential partners or targets. If any of these patents are in another language, they must be translated to assess their value accurately.

Standard Setting and Collaborations: Companies involved in setting industry standards or in collaborative research and development often need to be aware of patents in various languages to ensure they’re not infringing and to help in technology selection.

Legal Clarity: Legal language is precise. Even small nuances in wording can have significant implications for the scope and enforceability of a patent. Thus, high-quality translations are essential to capture the exact meaning and intent of the original patent document.

Ensuring Broad IP Protection: By understanding and analyzing patents from around the world, companies can ensure they have comprehensive protection for their inventions, leaving no gaps that competitors might exploit.

Given the critical nature of patents in the world of business and innovation, ensuring accurate translation is crucial. Errors or misinterpretations in translation can lead to significant legal and financial consequences. As litigation, research, and market expansion become more international, the significance of non-English patents in shaping business strategies and legal defenses will only grow.

But why would they need to translate a patent which is 50 years old?

There are several reasons why legal teams might need to translate a patent that is 50 years old:

  1. Historical Research and Analysis: For academic or corporate research purposes, older patents can provide insights into the development and evolution of specific technologies, products, or industries. This historical context can be valuable for strategists, historians, researchers, and innovators.
  2. Prior Art: Even if a patent is expired, it can still be cited as prior art in patent disputes to challenge the novelty or obviousness of a newer patent. If a legal team suspects that an older patent contains relevant information for a litigation case, they’ll need it translated.
  3. Foundational Technology and Revivals: Some older patents describe foundational technologies that remain relevant or have experienced a resurgence due to new applications or advances in related fields. Understanding these foundational patents is crucial for new innovations.
  4. Patent Family and Continuations: Older patents can be part of a patent family, which includes newer continuations or related patents. When analyzing the scope and breadth of a patent family, especially in due diligence or M&A scenarios, older patents might be relevant.
  5. Licensing and Commercialization: In some cases, patented technologies don’t find commercial application immediately after they’re patented. Economic conditions, technological maturity, or market readiness might not be optimal at the time. Decades later, conditions might change, making the technology more relevant and valuable. In such cases, understanding the details of the old patent can be crucial.
  6. Public Domain Innovations: Once a patent expires, its disclosed innovations enter the public domain. Companies might want to explore these older, now freely available technologies, especially if they’re seeking cost-effective solutions without licensing fees.
  7. Clarifying Patent Citations: Sometimes, older patents are cited in newer ones. To understand the context and relevance of such citations, one might need to review and, if in a different language, translate the older patent.

In all these situations, if the old patent is in a foreign language, a translation will be necessary to ensure accurate understanding and utilization of the information contained within.

Trusted Platforms for Patent Searches

Our initial search which was done using Google returned no results.

We then tried using Google Patent Search. But this did not yield any results either.

PatentGuru to the Rescue

After seeing that Google did not help us in our search, we came across a powerful search engine dedicated to patent search: PatentGuru. PatentGuru was able to find some of the patents instantly, just by typing in the patent number.

Japanese Patent Search

Some of the patent numbers were not found on PatentGuru. Sometimes the numbers you are searching for are incomplete or inaccurate. When this is the case, you can use some of PatentGuru’s advanced search features to find the patent.

For example, if you have the name of the assignee or the inventor, you can perform a search accordingly.

Advanced filtering tools provided by PatentGuru will enable you to drill down and find your patent even if you don’t have too many details to go by. For example, if you have the name of the assignee and the search returns hundreds of patents, you can filter by language, by filing dates and other criteria.

Downloading the Original Document

Once you have found the patent you are looking for, click through to the patent description and look for the Patent Document tab. You will see links to an external site where you can download the original non-English patent document.

Other Noteworthy Patent Search Platforms

Espacenet is operated by the European Patent Office (EPO) and offers access to information about inventions and technical developments from the 19th century right up to today. It is a good place to search for non-English language patent documents.

Sumobrain is an online patent search and workflow tool that provides access to patent data from multiple countries. It is designed to cater to the needs of patent professionals, researchers, and businesses interested in intellectual property (IP).

Using ChatGPT for Patent Search

We tried using ChatGPT for the search and this was the response.

It appears that you’ve provided a patent or publication number, specifically “JP1971036930Y1.” As of my last training data in January 2022, I don’t have the ability to directly search databases in real-time for updated content, including patent databases.

However, you can look this number up on the Japan Patent Office (JPO) website or another patent database to retrieve details and information about this specific patent or publication.

If you can provide more context or details about the patent or its content, I might be able to assist further.

We did try to use the Japan Patent Office (JPO) website but it not only did not help, we found it to be riddled with bugs and errors. Not very useful.

Using Bard for Patent Search

While Bard did not help to track down the original document which we needed for the translation quote and word, it did return a wealth of data about the patent itself.

JP1971036930Y1 is a Japanese patent that was granted on March 8, 1973. The patent describes a method and apparatus for recording and reproducing digital data on a magnetic tape. The method involves using a magnetic head to record digital data on the tape in a series of pulses. The apparatus includes a magnetic head for recording and reproducing the digital data on the tape.

The patent was assigned to Sony Corporation.

But when we requested to find the original patent document, this was the response:

I don’t have access to the original document for JP1971036930Y1. However, I can provide you with some information about the patent, such as the abstract, the claims, and the drawings.

Bard was indeed useful, even though it ultimately did not help.

The Role of Machine Translation in Patent Search

Machine translation (MT) plays a pivotal role in global patent searches, enabling researchers to access and comprehend patents written in unfamiliar languages. As innovation transcends borders, ensuring comprehensive prior art searches requires delving into non-English patents. MT facilitates this by providing instant translations, making the search process more efficient. While it offers speed and accessibility, MT’s accuracy, especially with technical jargon, can sometimes be challenging. Nevertheless, advancements in neural machine translation are bridging these gaps. Thus, while MT is an invaluable tool in patent searches, it’s essential to approach its results with discernment and, when necessary, collaborate with human experts.


Patent documents are intricate, containing technical jargon, intricate diagrams, and specific terminologies. The precision required in understanding and conveying these concepts is often beyond the current capabilities of machine translation. Turn to GTS when you need professional translation of patent documents in other languages like Japanese, Chinese and Korean into English.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)