EditorsAbout the SiteComes vs. MicrosoftUsing This Web SiteSite ArchivesCredibility IndexOOXMLOpenDocumentPatentsNovellNews DigestSite NewsRSS

12.21.15

The Forgotten History of IAM ‘Magazine’ as EPO Management’s Megaphone and EPO Union Basher

Posted in Europe, Patents at 8:21 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Joff Wild of IAM

Summary: In an old letter from the Staff Union of the European Patent Office (SUEPO), conflicts of interest in the Council, the decreasing quality of patents, the attacks on workers’ rights as well as many other issues were already openly discussed

On Saturday we showed that IAM 'magazine' was indirectly paid by the EPO to organise a pro-UPC event. We have received some private feedback about that article, neither from EPO staff nor from unions. There are many people in Europe and abroad who are seriously concerned about what’s happening inside the EPO these days. The whole world is impacted by patents, albeit their impact is mostly invisible to people (market prices are commonly what’s visible to common men and women).

“There are many people in Europe and abroad who are seriously concerned about what’s happening inside the EPO these days.”Regarding the Saturday article, one person drew our attention to something from more than 7 years ago. “From the archives,” said this person, there is a 2008 letter where “SUEPO replies to Joff Wild.” Wild is the main person behind IAM ‘magazine’, which we wrote more and more about in recent weeks because we suspect it is climbing into bed with the EPO more often than before. Articles on this subject include:

Having retrieved the letter from SUEPO, we would like to show what IAM did at the time (emphasis in larger fonts), together with Brimelow, the EPO’s President at the time:

Zentraler Vorstand . Central Executive Committee . Bureau Central

15.12.2008
su08163cl – 2.04.6b/6.

Re.: IAM blog – Comments on SUEPO

Dear Mr. Wild,

In your blog you have repeatedly challenged SUEPO (Staff Union of the European Patent Office) to provide evidence in support of its claims that:

• there is a drive towards decentralisation,
• the quality of the patents granted by the European Patent Office is threatened by the policies of its administration,
• the system is distorted away from the interests of the users (in our opinion mainly towards those of the national patent offices), and
• European Patent Office staff is genuinely frustrated.

“In fact, officials have recently been threatened with disciplinary actions for their alleged involvement in SUEPO publications.”You claim that SUEPO is dishonest in the sense that the criticism raised is predominantly motivated by a degradation of the working conditions at the European Patent Office. We would of course like to reply to this challenge, however, our ability to do so is severely limited by the restrictive interpretation of the EPO administration that staff may not publish internal information that is not already public. In fact, officials have recently been threatened with disciplinary actions for their alleged involvement in SUEPO publications. In the following we therefore limit ourselves to summarising material which has already been published

Much of the material we cite is also available on the SUEPO website (www.suepo.org).

1. Frustration of EPO staff

“It was reported that in a survey conducted by the staff union in April 2004 among some 1,300 patent examiners, more than three-quarters agreed with the statement that productivity demands from the EPO’s managers did not allow them to enforce the quality standards set by the European Patent Convention.”The frustration of the EPO staff about the way their Organisation is governed is not new and is very well documented. One of the earliest publicly available reports on staff discontent as expressed in staff surveys comes from none other than the highly reputed scientific journal Nature (“Pressured staff lose faith in patent quality”, Alison Abbott, 3 June 2004, Nature vol. 493). It was reported that in a survey conducted by the staff union in April 2004 among some 1,300 patent examiners, more than three-quarters agreed with the statement that productivity demands from the EPO’s managers did not allow them to enforce the quality standards set by the European Patent Convention. And 90% said that they did not have time to keep up to date with advances in their scientific fields.

In a staff survey of 730 examiners, undertaken by the EPO in 2004, only 9% said they believed that the management was “actively involved in improving quality”. The staff surveys subsequently conducted by the EPO in 2006 and 2008 produced similar results. The cause of staff discontent is clearly not the benefit package since the vast majority staff reported their satisfaction with pay and rewards in the staff survey cited in


the above-mentioned Nature article, and have continued to do so in subsequent surveys. It should furthermore be noted that the earliest warning signals were issued under President Kober, at a time when the staff benefit package was not under discussion (see, for example, the New Scientist article “Go-slow at patent office puts inventions on hold” of 19 February 2000).

“”Regarding the 2008 Staff Survey, the German magazine “Spiegel” reported that staff trust in the Administrative Council was at an exceptionally low level of just 4% (“Tausende Patentamt-Mitarbeiter sind genervt von Chefetage” link Spiegel Online to doc on our website 07.06.2008).The 2004 Staff Survey documented strong dissatisfaction at the difficulties in delivering quality work, and a lack of trust in the Office management in general and the Administrative Council in particular. Regarding the 2008 Staff Survey, the German magazine “Spiegel” reported that staff trust in the Administrative Council was at an exceptionally low level of just 4% (“Tausende Patentamt-Mitarbeiter sind genervt von Chefetage” link Spiegel Online to doc on our website 07.06.2008). This information is
correct. We refer you to CA/93/07 for our interpretation of the similar lack of trust in the Council recorded in the 2006 Staff Survey.

One factor behind the lack of trust towards Office management, at least amongst examiners, is continuous changes in the reporting system resulting in an ever-increasing focus on quantity at the cost of quality, and this in the face of an obvious increase in the size and complexity of the incoming applications (see CA/73/05 “The increased voluminosity of patent applications received by the EPO and its impact on the European Patent System”), a constant increase in the volume of prior art, and what we experience as a decline in willingness to cooperate from many applicants.

“One factor behind the lack of trust towards Office management, at least amongst examiners, is continuous changes in the reporting system resulting in an ever-increasing focus on quantity at the cost of quality…”Research International, the consultants commissioned to undertake the last three staff surveys, already identified in 2004 a huge divide between staff and senior management. They referred to this divide as a culture conflict: on the staff side a culture of quality and on the management side a culture of quantity.

2. Quality of the patents granted by the EPO

SUEPO has consistently and continuously claimed the need for high quality search and examination work, based on first rate classification and documentation, and followed by a comprehensive and high-quality patent information service, in the interest of applicants and the public. Already in 1997 SUEPO issued a first position paper on patent quality, followed in 2002 by the SUEPO working paper “A Quality Strategy for the EPO” and in 2004 by the SUEPO position paper “Quality of Examination at the EPO”. The consistency of approach is evident when consulting subsequent SUEPO papers and interventions on the topic of quality, most recently in 2006 in SUEPO’s position on the questionnaire of the European Commission on the patent system in Europe.

“Already in 1997 SUEPO issued a first position paper on patent quality, followed in 2002 by the SUEPO working paper “A Quality Strategy for the EPO” and in 2004 by the SUEPO position paper “Quality of Examination at the EPO”.”It remains SUEPO’s conviction that the strength of the EPO, and the continued justification for a centralised European Patent Office, resides in the critical mass of staff with the specialised technical, legal, procedural and linguistic knowledge necessary to search and examine patent applications accurately and completely. This is a prerequisite to issue patents with a very high presumption of validity. A presumption of validity is an indication of a confidence in the fairness of the patent system, and fairness is a requirement to ensure that the patent system serves the collective interests of society as a whole rather than those of specific groups.

This is undeniably linked to working conditions at the EPO and therefore of central interest to staff. First, the meaning and purpose of the contribution staff can make to society is undermined if the rights granted are not proportionate to the contribution made by that applicant. Secondly, to achieve the standard of quality required the Office must be able to attract and retain highly qualified scientists, engineers, lawyers and formalities staff, with the necessary language skills. Thirdly, in order to maintain high


public confidence in the impartiality of the EPO all nationals must be fairly represented, requiring conditions of employment which are sufficiently attractive to persuade staff to expatriate themselves and their families.

“It is, however, rather silent on what measures have been taken to safeguard or increase the quality, and entirely silent on e.g. recent developments in the error rates in granted patents.”In statements directed to the outside world the administration stresses its commitment to quality. It is, however, rather silent on what measures have been taken to safeguard or increase the quality, and entirely silent on e.g. recent developments in the error rates in granted patents. One potentially quality-enhancing measure which has been implemented recently is to increase the “points” allocated to examiners for refusing an application. This partially compensates the higher work input involved in a refusal. However, this change is not reflected at an organisational level, leaving the office with conflicting priorities. Initial feedback also suggests that this measure has resulted in an increase in the proportion of applications which are refused. If true such results support the long held view of staff that the management systems in the EPO have created a bias towards granting. While SUEPO nonetheless appreciates this measure, it should not be forgotten that it was a compromise reluctantly accepted by management following fierce opposition against the latest round of changes to the productivity reporting system, at a cost of 18.000 strike days. In general, the focus of the Office (and Council) remains on productivity and production rather than on quality. This is a source of extreme frustration for staff – at the end of the day, it is the quality of the “end product” which counts. The staff of the EPO are not the only ones who are concerned about the quality of their work. As an example, we refer to a recent report by the British industry association TMPDF.

3. Drive towards decentralisation

A drive towards decentralisation has been recognised very early in the history of the EPO, see e.g. Bossung (2001) on the (lack of) political leadership. However, this tendency has increased in recent years. SUEPO is not alone in noticing this and in opposing it. For a very recent contribution to the debate see the latest entry on Axel Horn’s IP::JUR blog. The decentralisation process received renewed impetus with the Administrative Council’s approval of the proposals contained in CA/120/06, CA/121/06, CA/122/06, CA/123/06 and CA/124/06 detailing the European Patent Network (EPN). While some aspects of these initiatives are potentially beneficial to the users of the European patent system, those same users have stated that they do not want a decentralised patent system and have already “voted with their feet”.

“It is instructive to consider the reaction of applicants to the decision of the Council to stop the EPO performing “special searches” and to force applicants to choose between various national offices for this service (“Special searches handed over to national patent offices”).”The “Utilisation Pilot Project” referred to in CA/121/06 above was initiated to test potential gains in efficiency through the utilisation by EPO examiners of the results of searches carried out in certain national offices (Denmark, UK, Austria, Germany). However, interest was so low that the voluntary nature of participation was abandoned. More than 1000 files have now been processed and the results compared. We have seen the raw results, which do not support the claimed efficiency gains. Information on the pilot outcome pilot is available in the documents CA/147/08 and CA/147/08 Add. 1. Nevertheless, we know that the Project Board, which includes representatives of the participating national offices, claims such gains, seemingly regardless of the results.

It is instructive to consider the reaction of applicants to the decision of the Council to stop the EPO performing “special searches” and to force applicants to choose between various national offices for this service (“Special searches handed over to national patent offices”). This was part of the proposals of CA/123/06. The EPO was flooded with requests for special searches before the deadline expired, often accompanied by letters insisting that the search be performed by the EPO. No information is available about the subsequent handling of special searches by the national offices, for example, numbers requested before and after the change, feedback from applicants, etc. We


fear that this lack of respect for the legitimate interests of applicants risks becoming the hallmark of the EPO.

“We fear that this lack of respect for the legitimate interests of applicants risks becoming the hallmark of the EPO.”Although the original concept of the European Patent Network was firmly based on the principle of voluntary participation by applicants, we believe that it is no longer intended to adhere to this principle. In view of the lack of interest from applicants for both the “utilisation pilot project” and “special searches” initiatives, and the resulting reactions of many Administrative Council delegations, the impression is that user participation in
such EPN projects will de facto become compulsory (or “office-led” as the EPO management puts it).

4. Conflicts of interest in the Council

The heads of the national delegations in the Administrative Council are almost without exception heads of their respective national patent offices. For many of the national offices their 50% share of the renewal fees constitutes a very substantial proportion of their annual budget (in several cases well over 50%). In their function as heads of national offices these heads of delegation thus have an interest in having many patents granted, and having them granted quickly.

“The heads of the national delegations in the Administrative Council are almost without exception heads of their respective national patent offices.”Again SUEPO is not alone in identifying and publicizing this problem. In the “Interviews for the Future” collected in 2006 by the EPO as part of the Future Scenarios project, Thierry Sueur (Vice-President of Air Liquide, responsible for Intellectual Property, and Chairman of BusinessEurope’s Working Group “Patents”) and Jacques Combeau (Intellectual Property, Air Liquide, and delegate for Business Europe at the
Administrative Council) famously said: “I am convinced that the way the EPO is managed today (by its Administrative Council) is such that it will mean either the death of the EPO or its transformation into a cash machine.” The interview with Dr. Ingrid Schneider also makes highly interesting reading in this respect.

Since 2006 the Administrative Council has taken a decision that is clearly not in the interest of the Organisation, by transferring a total of 720 million EUR in liabilities from the Contracting States (in several cases from the national patent offices directly), to the European Patent Organisation despite the Organisation allegedly being in serious financial difficulty.

5. Motivation of SUEPO

SUEPO is a staff union. It is the very purpose of a union to defend the interests of the staff that it represents, including their financial interests, therefore, we confirm that SUEPO will continue to defend the conditions of staff. However, when conflicts started in the mid 1990s (under President Kober) the staff’s benefit package was not under discussion, the issue was productivity, and staff considered that the measures taken would jeopardise quality. Under President Pompidou staff trust in its governing bodies decreased further, albeit not with regard to attacks on the benefit package.

“Under President Pompidou staff trust in its governing bodies decreased further, albeit not with regard to attacks on the benefit package.”Presently, under President Brimelow, staff benefits are being put into question. The thinking behind this appears to be that financial measures (e.g. performance related pay, loss of career rights) are needed to coerce staff to produce more. This reflects a commonly expressed view of our management that the quality issues raised by staff are a proxy for workload disputes. This view misunderstands completely staffs’ concerns with quality.

In an interview with you, Ms. Brimelow referred to “the “escalator” model of pay that currently exists” in the EPO. This is the sort of statement that would make any union


jump. However, the new pension scheme being introduced in 2009 will primarily affect future staff. The administration has repeatedly stated that staff in place will not be affected. Future staff, however, will be confronted with a pension system that SUEPO considers both unattractive and socially unjust (at least by European standards) and that – according to statements of the administration – could lower their pensions by 22%. Our fear is that this will provide a disincentive to prospective, highly-qualified staff which the EPO needs to recruit in the future in order to safeguard quality standards.

6. Conclusion

To summarize: although SUEPO will of course resist attacks on the working conditions of staff , it has been calling for actions in order to defend the quality of the work of the Office, which it considers to be of paramount importance to the European public and industry, and to defend the interests of future staff. SUEPO will continue to fight against the trend towards a high volume low quality patent system, since this seeks to reduce the work of staff to that of automatons serving the limited financial interests of some groups rather than the interests of society as a whole.

“SUEPO will continue to fight against the trend towards a high volume low quality patent system, since this seeks to reduce the work of staff to that of automatons serving the limited financial interests of some groups rather than the interests of society as a whole.”Current staff have paid a high price, not only in the form of pay deductions due to
strikes, but also the social unrest and associated stress that this conflict causes. Considering the importance of these issues SUEPO continues to be astonished by the apathy of important decision makers with regard to the erosion of values within the patent system, and continued lack of real public debate on the matter.

In the circumstances, we consider that your suggestion that SUEPO is acting out of self-interest is disingenuous, and puts in doubt the independence and impartiality of your reports.

For your information, we intend to make this letter available to all EPO staff.

Yours sincerely,

Mr. A. Wansing
SUEPO central executive committee

Mr. E. Daintith
SUEPO Munich

Mr. P. Bocking
SUEPO Berlin

Mr. J. Areso
SUEPO The Hague

Ms. C. Schuhmann
SUEPO Vienna

.cc A. Brimelow

Explaining this to non-technical patent lawyers may mean it will just fall on deaf ears. Either way, recently we saw more evidence of pressure on examiners to speed up or lose their vacation. There is also accelerated examination for large businesses. A lot of what SUEPO wrote almost a decade ago is still applicable and it’s probably getting worse under Battistelli. He is trying to crush SUEPO itself (the messenger). As noted in the letter above, a culture of secrecy inside the EPO (limiting access to information by the media, using threats) was part of the problem.

Share this post: These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages.
  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Reddit
  • co.mments
  • DZone
  • email
  • Google Bookmarks
  • LinkedIn
  • NewsVine
  • Print
  • Technorati
  • TwitThis
  • Facebook

If you liked this post, consider subscribing to the RSS feed or join us now at the IRC channels.

Pages that cross-reference this one

What Else is New


  1. CEN and CENELEC Agreement With the EPO Shows That It's Definitely the European Commission's 'Department'

    With headlines such as “EPO to collaborate on raising SEP awareness” it is clear to see that the Office lacks impartiality and the European Commission cannot pretend that the EPO is “dafür bin ich nicht zuständig” or “da kenne ich mich nicht aus”



  2. Decisions Made Inside the European Patent Organisation (EPO) Lack Credibility Because Examiners and Judges Lack Independence

    The lawless, merciless, Mafia-like culture left by Battistelli continues to haunt judges and examiners; how can one ever trust the Office (or the Organisation at large) to deliver true justice in adherence or compliance with the EPC?



  3. Team UPC Buries Its Credibility Deeper in the Grave

    The three Frenchmen at the top do not mention the UPC anymore; but those who promote it for a living (because they gambled on leveraging it for litigation galore) aren't giving up and in the process they perpetuate falsehoods



  4. The EPO Has Sadly Taken a Side and It's the Patent Trolls' Side

    Abandoning the whole rationale behind patents, the Office now led for almost a year by António Campinos prioritises neither science nor technology; it's all about granting as many patents (European monopolies) as possible for legal activity (applications, litigation and so on)



  5. Where the USPTO Stands on the Subject of Abstract Software Patents

    Not much is changing as we approach Easter and software patents are still fool's gold in the United States, no matter if they get granted or not



  6. Links 19/3/2019: Jetson/JetBot, Linux 5.0.3, Kodi Foundation Joins The Linux Foundation, and Firefox 66

    Links for the day



  7. Links 18/3/2019: Solus 4, Linux 5.1 RC1, Mesa 18.3.5, OSI Individual Member Election Won by Microsoft

    Links for the day



  8. Microsoft and Its Patent Trolls Continue Their Patent War, Including the War on Linux

    Microsoft is still preying on GNU/Linux using patents, notably software patents; it wants billions of dollars served on a silver platter in spite of claims that it reached a “truce” by joining the Open Invention Network and joining the LOT Network



  9. Director Iancu Generally Viewed as a Lapdog of Patent Trolls

    As Director of the Office, Mr. Iancu, a Trump appointee, not only fails to curb patent trolls; he actively defends them and he lowers barriers in order to better equip them with bogus patents that courts would reject (if the targets of extortion could afford a day in court)



  10. Links 17/3/2019: Google Console and IBM-Red Hat Merger Delay?

    Links for the day



  11. To Team UPC the Unified Patent Court (UPC) Has Become a Joke and the European Patent Office (EPO) Never Mentions It Anymore

    The EPO's frantic rally to the very bottom of patent quality may be celebrated by obedient media and patent law firms; to people who actually produce innovative things, however, this should be a worrisome trend and thankfully courts are getting in the way of this nefarious agenda; one of these courts is the FCC in Germany



  12. Links 16/3/2019: Knoppix Release and SUSE Independence

    Links for the day



  13. Stopping António Campinos and His Software Patents Agenda (Not Legal in Europe) Would Require Independent Courts

    Software patents continue to be granted (new tricks, loopholes and buzzwords) and judges who can put an end to that are being actively assaulted by those who aren't supposed to have any authority whatsoever over them (for decisions to be impartially delivered)



  14. The Linux Foundation Needs to Speak Out Against Microsoft's Ongoing (Continued) Patent Shakedown of OEMs That Ship Linux

    Zemlin actively thanks Microsoft while taking Microsoft money; he meanwhile ignores how Microsoft viciously attacks Linux using patents, revealing the degree to which his foundation, the “Linux Foundation” (not about Linux anymore, better described as Zemlin’s PAC), has been compromised



  15. Links 15/3/2019: Linux 5.0.2, Sublime Text 3.2

    Links for the day



  16. The EPO and the USPTO Are Granting Fake Patents on Software, Knowing That Courts Would Reject These

    Office management encourages applicants to send over patent applications that are laughable while depriving examiners the freedom and the time they need to reject these; it means that loads of bogus patents are being granted, enshrined as weapons that trolls can use to extort small companies outside the courtroom



  17. CommunityBridge is a Cynical Microsoft-Funded Effort to Show Zemlin Works for 'Community', Not Microsoft

    After disbanding community participation in the Board (but there are Microsoft staff on the Board now) the "Linux Foundation" (or Zemlin PAC) continues to take Microsoft money and polishes or launders that as "community"



  18. Links 14/3/2019: GNOME 3.32 and Mesa 19.0.0 Released

    Links for the day



  19. EPO 'Results' Are, As Usual, Not Measured Correctly

    The supranational monopoly, a monopoly-granting authority, is being used by António Campinos to grant an insane amount of monopolies whose merit is dubious and whose impact on Europe will be a net negative



  20. Good News Everyone! UPC Ready to Go... in 2015!

    Benoît Battistelli is no longer in Office and his fantasy (patent lawyers' fantasy) is as elusive as ever; Team UPC is trying to associate opposition to UPC with the far right (AfD) once again



  21. Links 13/3/2019: Plasma 5.15.3,Chrome 73 and Many LF Press Releases

    Links for the day



  22. In the Age of Trumpism EFF Needs to Repeatedly Remind Director Iancu That He is Not a Judge and He Cannot Ignore the Courts

    The nonchalance and carelessness seen in Iancu's decision to just cherry-pick decisions/outcomes (basically ignoring caselaw) concerns technologists, who rightly view him as a 'mole' of the litigation 'industry' (which he came from)



  23. Links 12/3/2019: Sway 1.0 Released, Debian Feuds Carry On

    Links for the day



  24. Microsoft is Complaining About Android and Chrome OS (GNU/Linux) Vendor Not Paying for Microsoft Patents (Updated)

    Microsoft, which nowadays does the patent shakedown against GNU/Linux by proxy, is still moaning about companies that don’t pay ‘protection’ money (grounds for antitrust action or racketeering investigation)



  25. Watchtroll Has Redefined "Trolls" to Mean Those Who Oppose Software Patents (and Oppose Trolls), Not Those Who Leverage These for Blackmail Alone

    The controversial change to 35 U.S.C. § 101 guidance is being opposed by the public (US citizens who oppose American software patents), so patent maximalists like Janal Kalis (“PatentBuddy”) and extremists like Gene Quinn (Watchtroll) want us to believe that the public is just “EFF” and cannot think for itself



  26. EPO's Latest 'Results' Show That António Campinos Has Already Given Up on Patent Quality and is Just Another Battistelli

    The patent-granting machine that the EPO has become reports granting growth of unrealistic scale (unless no proper examination is actually carried out)



  27. Links 11/3/2019: Linux 5.0.1, Audacity 2.3.1, GNU Coreutils 8.31

    Links for the day



  28. US Patent Law Currently Not Changing Much and Software Patents Are Still in Limbo

    Surveying the news, as we still meticulously do (even if we don't write about it), it seems clear that American courts hardly tolerate software patents and proponents of such patents are losing their voice (or morale)



  29. EPO Examiner: “I Have Been Against Software Patents and Eventually 3/4 of My Job is Examining Software Patent Applications.”

    Overworked examiners aren't being given the time, the tools and the freedom to reject patents, based on prior art, patent scope and so on; it is beginning to resemble a rubber-stamping operation, not an examining authority



  30. Europe Will Pay a High Price for Software Patents Advocacy by António Campinos in Europe's Patent-Granting Authority

    EPO President António Campinos — like Iancu at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) — is still promoting software patents in Europe even though such patents are clearly detrimental to Europe’s interests


CoPilotCo

RSS 64x64RSS Feed: subscribe to the RSS feed for regular updates

Home iconSite Wiki: You can improve this site by helping the extension of the site's content

Home iconSite Home: Background about the site and some key features in the front page

Chat iconIRC Channel: Come and chat with us in real time

CoPilotCo

Recent Posts