Get ready for a tongue twister. You’re an Estonian entrepreneur who has just dreamed up a revolutionary new product. How do you find out if a Portuguese or Polish inventor - indeed any other inventor anywhere - has filed a patent on a similar idea in their native language? Locating and understanding a patent lodged in a foreign language can be a time-consuming and costly affair.

Last week, however, Google and the European Patent Office partnered to break down this linguistic barrier. Starting later this year, the Munich-based EPO will use Google Translate technology to offer translation of patents on its website between any of 28 European languages, as well as Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Russian. The various languages will be added to the site gradually, and the project should be finalised by the end of 2014.

The EPO will provide Google with access to their complete corpus of patents on a non-exclusive basis, allowing us to optimise our machine translation technology for the technical language used in patent registrations. Machine translation technology analyses existing parallel texts (eg the same document translated into multiple languages) in order to make accurate guesses about how to translate new texts. The more inputs, the better the translations. In return, Google will offer the improved translation service free of charge to the EPO.

The partnership is a big win for Europe’s entrepreneurs and inventors too, as they will benefit from free, real-time translation of millions of patents granted in European countries, China, Japan, Korea and Russia. Whilst the translations made by Google Translate will not be legally binding, they will offer a practical way for anybody to gain improved access to the technical information contained in patents across all EPO languages simultaneously.

We’re excited to be working with the EPO on this great example of how machine translation can improve access to important technical information across language barriers - and how public-private partnership can result in pragmatic solutions that support Europe’s innovators.