Online dictionary resources for patent, technical and medical translation from Japanese, German and French to English. Part 2 - Useful Websites for Translation of Patents from German and French
Note: Because the information provided on the websites of patent offices of countries listed in my articles is being constantly updated, the URLs listed in my articles may be obsolete. Current links to search pages of patent offices that can be used as interactive context-based dictionaries are also available on www.PatentTranslators.com or www.TokkyoHonyaku.com.
Part 1 of this article, also available on this website, described techniques for using the Japan Patent Office website as an online Japanese-English and English-Japanese interactive dictionary. Part 2 will look at websites and techniques that can be used in a similar way for translation into English of patent applications published mainly in German and French, but to some extent also in other European languages.
A hundred years ago or so, there was basically only one way to learn a trade. If you wanted to become, say, a bookbinder or a violin maker in a European country such as Italy or Germany, you had to become an apprentice in the workshop of an established master, which meant that you basically had to work for room and board for a number of years for a stern and stingy master bookbinder or violin maker. After the required number of years, you would learn all there was to learn from one of the masters - apprentices often went to different masters, sometime in different countries, to learn their trade. If you were any good and not too ugly, you would probably eventually marry the master’s daughter and buy him out so that he could retire (according to an old Czech proverb that was something of a consolation to me when I was a teenager, a man is handsome if he is not quite as ugly as the Devil himself). It was not a bad system for the 18th or 19th century. But Internet is a much better system for finding information, in particular when it comes to learning the ins and outs of the relatively recent trade of technical and patent translation of patents in German, French and other languages. That is because translators of foreign patents into English, especially those translate patents from German and French to English, can compare different translations of technical terms on websites that are accessible to anyone.
Even as recently as about a decade ago, relatively few English summaries of foreign patents were available online, mostly only from Japanese and German to English, and before Internet became a second nature to so many people, these summaries would be accessed for a fee basically only from patent offices and not many people would know about them besides patent lawyers. That has all changed, of course, and we can now access information in a number of languages almost instantaneously, provided that we can read and write those languages.
The most commonly used website for copies of patent applications that were originally published in German, French, Japanese, or another language is the European Patent Office (EPO) website. Although the EPO website is very useful for translators who need to find the full text of a patent in a foreign language (including Japanese and sometime also other languages) in PDF format, the disadvantage of this website is that it can be searched only in English in the English interface. It is possible to “guess” a term in English and enter the term in the search page at: http://ep.espacenet.com/ in order to display English summaries of German or French patents to locate a technical term in this manner, but this can be a very time consuming task. If you are looking for a translation of a German term into English, it is much easier to use instead the German interface version on the EPO website at: http://de.espacenet.com/ (which, incidentally, also provides a German interface to national patent offices of some other European countries, searchable to some extent also in French), the quick search page of the German Patent Office (GPO) at:
http://depatisnet.dpma.de/, or you can try the website of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) at: http://www.wipo.int/ipdl/en/. The EPO search page above (de.espacenet.com) can be searched in German and after a few clicks also in French, and both the GPO and the WIPO websites listed above can be searched both in German and in English. Although only a relatively small portion of published German patent applications has been provided with English summaries available on the GPO website (in contrast to that, all Japanese unexamined patent applications are provided with an English summary), if the patent has been published in German as a PCT application, it will always have an English summary and unlike English summaries provided for Japanese patent applications, English summaries of German applications are almost always written in good and clearly understandable English. One disadvantage of the GPO website is that translators will initially waste some time clicking through several pages to arrive at the quick search page because every search must be started as a new session after several questions have been answered. Because it takes a little bit more time to find what you are looking for on this website, compared for example to the de.espacenet.com or WIPO website, I usually search for English equivalents of German technical terms first at the de.espacenet.com website or WIPO website to save time. On the other hand, an advantage of the GPO website is that it is has a very comprehensive database of German patents and utility models and it can be also used to locate patents published in other languages, such as Japanese or French, since a number of options are suggested to users to facilitate access to patent databases of different countries on this website - from AU for Austria, CZ for Czech Republic, DD for former East German, DE for Germany, US and ZA (which is South Africa). This is in fact a very useful feature and I sometime end up on the GPO website when I am looking for example for something in Japanese, Czech or French if I am unable to find the terms (or the name of a company or of an inventor) on another website. Because every website has slightly different input parameters for searching, it is kind of hard to remember which website you are on and which parameters should be used once the hunt fever sets in. So sometime I simply give up on trying to figure out what kind of a stupid mistake am I making again and go to a different website.
The WIPO search page is particularly useful to translators who handle more than one pair of languages because text can be entered in English, German, French or Spanish. I often use this site to locate and compare English translations of terms in French and German. The WIPO interface is very simple and very fast, especially when you need to switch back and forth between English and French - all you have to do is click on the British or French flag. While the capability to recognize input in several languages is the main advantage of the WIPO website, its main disadvantage is its relatively limited coverage because only PCT (Patent Cooperation Treaty) patents are included in its database which goes back only to January 1997. This means that relatively older terms that are no longer used much may not be included in this database. Older German terms can be found on the German Patent Office website (Depatisnet). I also use mostly the WIPO website to search for English summaries of patents published in French. I was using the French Patent Office (INPI) website for this purpose for quite a few years, but because as of 2004, the French Patent Office website requires users to register, establish an account and pay a fee, I no longer use this website.
Translators of patents from German and French to English thus have a number of very useful websites of national or multinational patent offices providing the text of patent documents in the original language, sometime with an English summary. Again, the most useful and comprehensive website for identification of legible original documents is in my opinion the EPO website. However, the website seems to go through a major change every couple of years or so. These changes can be frustrating because all of a sudden, the URL is changed and you have to find the new one, or PDF files may no longer be displayed and printed, for instance if you switch your browser from Internet Explorer to Netscape or Mozilla Firefox, but they do improve the functionality of the site, once you get used to them. One useful option, added recently to the EPO website, is the ability to specify “Include Family” in the “Number Search” (the GPO website has the same feature). This feature can be used for example to identify an original patent on which an application filed in another country is based.
Let us say, for example, that a patent publication that was published originally in German was later modified to comply with the requirements for patent claims in United States and published later in a modified form in English. Translators often receive requests for translation of claims only in similar cases, because the law firm needs to know the exact wording of the new claims in a different version of the patent, filed in a different version in a different country. You can find the entire family of related patents if you mark the option “Include Family”, in the “Number Search” option on the EPO website, which may include patent documents in English, German, Russian, French and Japanese (for example). This option is also useful when you are establishing the terms that you will be using in your English translation if you happen to know several languages, because you can look at the same term, for example, in Japanese, French and German, before you make up your mind as to which English term you want to use.
Also, regardless of whether you are using the EPO website (in English or with the German interface at de.espacenet.com website), or the GPO or WIPO websites, your browser and Adobe software, which is linked to your browser, may or may not work unless you are using Internet Explorer. This also means that you may or may not be able to print PDF files unless you are using Internet Explorer. That is why it makes sense to keep a copy of IE on your computer for this purpose even if you mostly use another browser. Another problem are special characters (such as accent grave in French or sharp S in German). But the foreign term will be usually accepted without the diacritics and/or special accents on most websites (and double s for sharp S and two vowel combinations for umlauts in German should also work). If not, my only recourse is to Google the word in German, French, etc., until I find it displayed with the proper characters and accents and then cut and paste it into the search field. It also works for Japanese once you tell your operating system to recognize Japanese. Needless to say, because Google can be used in a number of languages, it can be also used to track down proper spelling of names, such as company names which have been transcribed into a different alphabet and thus often rendered completely unintelligible, for instance in Japanese or Russian. Once you have the name of the company (which is usually the patent applicant) and the name of the inventor, you may be able to track down the foreign patent application that you are looking for on the EPO website or on the GPO website. However, you may have to install the German or Russian keyboard, which is an option under Regional and Language Options in the Control Panel in Windows XP, if you run searches using words for instance in German or Russian frequently.
Translators of patent applications written in other languages than Japanese, German, or French are less fortunate when it comes to existing English summaries of foreign patents. Although basically every country has a patent office website (and most are listed on my website at www.patenttranslators.com/links.htm, some national patent office websites are basically designed for one function and one function only: to facilitate payment of fees to the patent office. No assistance whatsoever is provided to people who are looking for free information. I tried to figure out how to display a Chinese or Korean patent without registering and paying a fee (through translators from Chinese and Korean who sometime work for me), but without any success. Neither was I able to find a free copy of a patent in Russian or Czech on the websites of the respective national patent offices. Some help is available, again, from EPO, which provides an interface in a number of languages to its vast collection of patent applications in different languages. The interfaces in various national languages are listed in the table below.
However, the language support is limited and a search can be run usually only in English (except for de.espacenet.com which is can be searched in German). Since the European Union has grown from 6 to 25 countries and more are scheduled to join in the near future, patent translators can perhaps hope that in addition to a common currency, common laws, and a huge multilingual bureaucracy in Brussels, patent offices of EU countries will eventually also make it possible to search for terms in patents published in a number of languages spoken in Europe. The websites in the table above also have links to various national patent offices in various countries and it is possible that some of them already have or will be adding a search capability for searching in other languages than English, German, French (and Spanish in some instances).
Unlike a few years ago, patent translators now have access not only to specialized technical dictionaries which they must purchase, but also free access to websites of national and multinational (EPO, WIPO) patent offices, which can be in some cases searched in several languages to display a summary in English (EPO, GPO, JPO), or to switch with one click between English and French summaries (WIPO). At first glance, it may seem like a waste of time to research a single word or a few words for quite some time in this manner. After all, translators usually get paid by the word, regardless of how much time they “waste” doing their research online. But even though I sometime spend a lot of time looking up a term in two or three dictionaries and then end up looking up the term again on two or three websites, I usually do this only at the beginning of a translation. Also, the fact that I can do so means that I don’t have to limit myself to a narrow field. For example, physics, chemistry, electrical and mechanical and automotive engineering, mechanics, electronics, optics, textiles – fields that I would call traditional patent fields, are usually covered in a very comprehensive manner in well known German dictionaries such as Ernst (Dictionary of Engineering and Technology), or DeVries (Technical and Engineering Dictionary). But because these dictionaries are relatively dated, they do not offer much help in fields such as biology and biochemistry, medicine, data processing and telecommunication, particle physics, artificial intelligence, etc. – fields that I would call more recent patent fields. Patent translators can and should try to buy as many specialized dictionaries as they can: for instance Langenscheidt’s Dictionary of Chemistry and Chemical Dictionary, which combined with Patterson’s Dictionary for Chemists and Dictionary of Medicine and Pharmaceutics by Bunjes will cover a lot of terms that are not included in Ernst or DeVries. But a book is necessarily obsolete already at the moment when it is published. The terminological database that is available on websites of national and multinational patent offices can be updated on a daily basis.
I also think that it must be boring to work in a narrow field, although it must be more lucrative, provided that you have plenty of work, if you are a specialist rather than a generalist. The longest patent I have translated so far was in a field in which I can translate often without looking at any dictionary or website at all. It had 155 pages of text and 25 pages of diagrams and flowcharts. After the first 20 pages or so, the work was really boring because the rest of the patent was a tedious description of different combinations of arrangements and embodiments of basically the same thing and the main challenge was really paying enough attention to what I was doing for long hours from morning to night.
If I work in a field that I am less familiar with, my daily output is reduced by at least a half and after a few hours I get very tired and need to take frequent breaks. This is because learning new concepts and terms in different languages involves a lot of heavy thinking when new connections (called synapses) are created between the neurons in our brain, sometime permanent and sometime temporary ones (which means that you have to open the dictionary or go to the website again when you see the same term several months later, although you remember that you encountered that term before and it is just on the tip of your tongue).
But to some people, patent translators for example, learning new concepts and new terms is a lot of fun because it requires a lot mental input and heavy thinking. After all, isn’t that what life really is all about?
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