Google to solve European patent harmonization deadlock?
This is potentially a bigger deal than may be apparent to readers in the New World. There has been a movement in Europe since at least the 1970's to have a true European Patent, enforceable in all European states, including the moribund and non-enacted Community Patent Convention. Since a European patent isn't in the cards, Europe has instead concentrated on harmonizing national systems and growing the European Patent Organisation, via the European Patent Convention (which is in force).
In both cases, perhaps the biggest obstacle is language. Its costly for applicants to translate patents into national languages, and European patent law harmonization efforts are largely European patent language harmonization efforts. Language is highly political in Europe: if European patents are required to be translated into English, French and German, but not Spanish or Italian, what does that say about the state of Spanish and Italian in the world (or at least Europe) today?
Personally, I think that patents aren't just for multinational corporations, but should be able to be read by the guy running the family manufacturing business - which means I think that if you live in Poland, you ought to have Polish patents (or European patents enforceable in Poland) available to you in Polish. Even if it does mean foreign companies have to pay to translate their patents.
But, having said that Europe has its own reasons for harmonization and reducing national sovereignty (WWI & II, for starters), so if they want to make Europe an English/German/French patent zone, who am I to complain? Although I note that the European drive for political and economic harmonization can hardly be said to apply to global patent harmonization efforts - or even other regional harmonization efforts.
Anyway, getting back to the main point of this post, automatic translators like google raise the possibility of cutting the gordian knot regarding language and patents. If the google and similar translators become able to do a "good enough" job - and I don't think that perfect translation is necessary in the case of patents - a very central, expensive and highly political feature of the patent law harmonization landscape may disappear.
Which would be pretty profound. (Albeit, working universal translators would probably be pretty profound in general... )