The European Patent Office has added Chinese to the list of languages available for machine translations on its free Espacenet database, which has a vast number of patent specifications.
“Patent translate” is a tool by which the text of either the descriptions or of the claims can be swiftly translated from or into many languages. Adding Chinese – so that you can either translate from Chinese into English or from English into Chinese – is a big step forward. While the translations are not exact, the vocabulary seems from a quick look to be accurate and you get a good idea about what the patent document is about.
However, this service is only available for the patent and utility model publications up to the end of 2010, judging from spot checking, so that there is a big gap.
This is important, as China is rapidly growing as a source of technical information it its patents, and Chinese patent literature is now part of the PCT Minimum Documentation that needs to be searched when so-called “World” patent applications are made. In October 2010 I wrote a post called Patents from China about the growing importance of Chinese patent literature.
Since then, in 2011 9,878 publications through the PCT scheme cited Chinese priorities, but this has risen to 11,744 in 2012 (and we’re not finished with 2012 yet). That’s an 18% rise !
To give an example of how the translation tool works. Suppose you are interested in solar power patents from China. In the advanced search format, you might ask for the simplistic
"solar power" or photovoltaic
...in the title field, plus CN in the publication number field, plus 2010 in the publication date field. There are 1,109 results. Click on one of the titles, then on Description or Claims (on the left) then on the red Patent Translate tab.
As this facility is not yet available for 2011 or 2012 documents it is a good idea to use the publication date range ability such as 2005:2010 to restrict the hits to publications in those years.