In a probably futile effort to stave off Alzheimers by torturing my brain, I have been trying for a while now to learn to read Chinese. Chinese is crazy difficult, for a number of reasons that I won’t go into here. I don’t have the time to devote to it that it would take to become actually fluent, which as best I can tell would require dying and being reincarnated as a Chinese person plus about 20 years of full time study. So my goal is more modest, just reasonable reading comprehension, mainly for reading patents and doing patent-related text mining. I try to spend half hour or so a day reviewing vocabulary and reading things, to reassure myself that I’m still dumber than a Chinese ten year old.

Trying to learn to read Chinese might seem like a waste of time — why not just use Google translate? It turns out that for most anything of adult reading level and complexity, the output of Google translate for Chinese to English is essentially incomprensible gibberish. Machine translation between Chinese and English is a seriously non-trivial undertaking because the two languages are so different on so many dimensions. Personally, I’m skeptical that the current statistically based approach to machine translation can be made to work here; I would bet we won’t have credible machine translation of Chinese until we figure out how to take grammar and semantics into account. My admittedly non-expert take is that the effectiveness of statistically based translation falls off much faster than linearly with increase in corpus size, and with a corpus the size of Google’s, I doubt that even an order of magnitude increase would bring much improvement in the quality of the translations.

Anyway, a year or so ago the U.S. Patent Office started providing an online search tool for Chinese patents and patent applications. This is quite handy as a source of practice material for reading. You can search in English, and whatever patents you find can be viewed and copied either in the original Chinese or in English machine translation (again, mostly gibberish). But in quite a few cases, patents filed in China are translated (by human translators, not by machine) and filed in the U.S. also, so it’s fairly easy to find Chinese patents and good English translations to go with them.

At this point I’ve read 30 or so (not always the entire text, they can be kind of boring and repetitious), so I thought I would go through my vocabulary list and pull out some of the patent-related terms. A source that I use a lot is the cedict open source Chinese-English dictionary, and in the course of reading all those patents there were some patent-related terms that weren’t in cedict or the other dictionary that I mainly rely on (WenLin), so it was necessary to figure them out via a combination of translating short phrases in Google translate, checking other online tools like,, and Baidu, and inferring meanings from usage based on experience with patent phraseology in English.

To the extent that these terms were not in cedict (about half were not), I am going to submit them for inclusion. However, in the somewhat unlikely event that someone else is interested in reading Chinese patents, I thought that it might be helpful to have a list of some of the basic terminology in one place, so the following list includes all the ones I pulled out, including the ones that are in cedict. If anyone has others, please email me or put them in a comment and I’ll add them to the list.

本领域公知的本領域公知的ben3 ling3 yu4 gong1 zhi1 de5known in the art/
待定待定dai4 ding4pending/
等同方案等同方案deng3 tong2 fang1 an4equivalents/
多个多個duo1 ge4plurality/
多于一个多於一個duo1 yu2 yi1 ge4more than one/
发明人發明人fa1 ming2 ren2inventor/
法庭法庭fa3 ting2court (of law)/
非实用实体非實用實體fei1 shi2 yong4 shi2 ti3NPE / non-practicing entity/
分力分力fen1 li4component/
附图附圖fu4 tu2attached map / attached drawing / attached figure/
公知公知gong1 zhi1known / known in the art/
后者後者hou4 zhe3the latter/
基础上基礎上ji1 chu3 shang4based on/
技术方案技術方案ji4 shu4 fang1 an4technical solution/
计算机可读介质計算機可讀介質ji4 suan4 ji1 ke3 du2 jie4 zhi4computer readable medium/
较佳較佳jiao4 jia1better / preferred/
可操作可操作ke3 cao1 zuo4operable/
框图框圖kuang4 tu2flowchart/block diagram/
利权利權li4 quan2patent rights / economic rights/
论点論點lun4 dian3argument / line of reasoning / thesis / point (of discussion)/
拟定的擬定的ni3 ding4 de5proposed / draft/
前者前者qian2 zhe3the former/
侵权侵權qin1 quan2infringement (patent or copyright) / violation of (copy) rights/
权利要求權利要求quan2 li4 yao1 qiu2claim (e.g. patent)/
任选任選ren4 xuan3optional/
如图如圖ru2 tu2as shown in figure X/
上述上述shang4 shu4above-mentioned/
少于少於shao3 yu2fewer than/
审查员審查員shen3 cha2 yuan2examiner / inspector/
实践者實踐者shi2 jian4 zhe3practitioner/
实施方式實施方式shi2 shi1 fang1 shi4embodiment/
实施例實施例shi2 shi1 li4embodiment / implementation/
示意图示意圖shi4 yi4 tu2schematic diagram/
视图視圖shi4 tu2view/
说明书說明書shuo1 ming2 shu1specification (patent) / (technical) manual / (book of) directions / synopsis (of a play or film)/
司法官司法官si1 fa3 guan1judge / judicial officer/
所示所示suo3 shi4as shown/
特开平特開平te4 Kai1 ping2laid-open / unexamined patent/
特集特集te4 ji2special feature / featured article/
条款條款tiao2 kuan3clause (of contract or law) / CL:項/项[xiang4]/
图表圖表tu2 biao3chart / diagram/
图形圖形tu2 xing2graph or figure/
先有的先有的xian1 you3 de5prior/
先有技术先有技術xian1 you3 ji4 shu4prior art/
仪器儀器yi2 qi4instrument / apparatus / CL:臺/台[tai2]/
永动机永動機yong3 dong4 ji1Perpetual motion machine/
用本领域已知的用本領域已知的yong4 ben3 ling3 yu4 yi3 zhi1 de5art-recognized/
优选優選you1 xuan3preferred/
元件元件yuan2 jian4element / component/
在此在此zai4 ci3hereto / here/
知识产权知識產權zhi1 shi5 chan3 quan2intellectual property rights/
诸如此类諸如此類zhu1 ru2 ci3 lei4so on and so on / etc/
专利权人專利權人zhuan1 li4 quan2 ren2patentee/
专利权專利權zhuan1 li4 quan2(n) patent right/
装置裝置zhuang1 zhi4equipment / system / device / apparatus/
总法律顾问總法律顧問zong3 fa3 lv4 gu4 wen4general counsel/

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