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07.05.16

Decline of Patent Quality at the EPO to Further Exacerbate With Latest Crackdown on Appeal Boards

Posted in Europe, Patents at 3:58 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Highest quality is lowest cost
Reference: Highest quality is lowest cost

Summary: Rather than emphasise and maintain quality control at the European Patent Office, the Battistellites seek to maximise the number of granted patents and rely on false claims

THE PATENT quality (not so-called ‘production’) at the EPO used to be the pride of Europe. Growing up in Europe, many people learned about famous European patent examiners such as Albert Einstein (pre-EPO era). Some of the strongest companies worked hard and paid a lot of money in an effort to be granted European patents (EPs), which were quite reputable around the world. Some of the brightest scientists examined applications in tandem/parallel and determined whether or not an innovation or claimed invention was indeed novel and would have courts agree upon challenge (high certainty of eligibility, quality, and novelty). These are the “good ol’ days” of the EPO.

“Some of the strongest companies worked hard and paid a lot of money in an effort to be granted European patents (EPs), which were quite reputable around the world.”Based on this evening’s (GMT) press release, errors in examination continue to be found. An alternative headline for the “news release” [sic] would be: “EPO erroneously granted a patent again. Reinforcing claims of decline in examination quality.”

Not too long ago somebody sent us an insider’s account regarding patent “production”, ECfS (Early Certainty from Search), Priority 1 (in the queue), the so-called “Paris criteria” and more. It helps confirm what we have been writing here for months if not years, namely that there is a massive decline in patent quality the and this gets more irreversible the longer Battistelli stays. To quote:

Once upon a time, EPO examiners were largely free to organize their own work. It was clear that EPC and PCT time limits were to be observed and that replies should not be laying waiting for years, but otherwise things were left to the good judgment of the examiner. That has changed dramatically. Now each examiner has an electronic cupboard in which files are arranged following some obscure algorithm and deviation from the strict order foreseen is considered a crime to be punished with a bad note for quality. Last year the priorities were apparently mainly set according to the “Early Certainty from Search” program. Apparently this year reaching the “Paris criteria” has been added as a new objective. There are further constraints on the examiner and some of those may clash. There is e.g. the total number of “products” to be achieved in a year and the ratio of searches and examinations to be maintained – all this in a situation that is not necessarily under the examiner’s control. In technical areas with a low search backlog maintaining the “ideal” search / examination ratio may not be possible, and total production is equally likely to suffer.

Last night we showed that Team Battistelli (the HR wing) lies about recruitment. It is making up for lack of quality (of examination) by throwing more unqualified or inexperienced examiners at the task, paying them less and offering them fewer incentives to do a good job. “Workforce planning,” as an insider put it, seems to involve “lowering recruitment standards” and “5-year contracts for examiners have also been considered, to be renewed only once” (damaging to work security and experience).

According to the following, “face-to-face technical interviews done by DG1 have recently been replaced by Skype interviews” (here again EPO administration sucks up to Microsoft with spyware endorsement). To quote the broader version of this insider account:

In a recent DG1 internal message, PD11 has asked staff to help the Office recruit more examiners in order to create the over-capacity in DG1 needed to work off the backlog and to meet the Paris criteria for search and examination. The question arises as to how the capacity will be brought back to normal once the backlog has melted. We suspect that the preferred option will be through “incentivised” retirement of senior examiners considered too expensive – incentivised through pressure and threat. The other option will be dismissal for professional incompetence. To facilitate the process of firing unwanted staff, the Office has submitted a document to the GCC that would take dismissals for professional incompetence out of the hands of the disciplinary committee and make it a “managerial decision” by the President after receipt of a majority opinion delivered by a newly-created “Joint Committee”. That cuts two ways: the procedure will become easier and quicker, and the time needed to challenge the decision will double because decisions taken after a disciplinary procedure can be (almost) directly taken to ILO-AT whereas managerial decisions need to go through the Internal Appeals Committee first. Under the circumstances probably not many of our colleagues will be convinced to recruit their friends to the Office. The apparent solution: lowering recruitment standards. The face-to-face technical interviews done by DG1 have recently been replaced by Skype interviews. Only the “psychological” interviews, done by the HR department, are still held in the Office. Apparently DG4 (HR) and not DG1 ultimately decides who will be hired or who will not. This clearly shows the Office’s new priorities, and who is the boss here. 5-year contracts for examiners have also been considered, to be renewed only once. After protests from DG1, DG4 backed off from that plan, but the recent staff changes now list all entrant examiners since 1 May 2016 as “contract staff”. Furthermore, the question remains whether a recruitment process that pays more attention to the psychological – generalist – profile considered desirable by HR than to the technical skills required in DG1 will allow the EPO to maintain the high level of quality that made the Organisation a success.

The ENA mentality of Battistelli would ruin the Office and leave it in an irreparable state. Paying millions of Euros to PR agencies, media companies and silly lobbying events will get harder when applicants become unwilling to pay for low-quality patents. At the same time, Battistelli is biasing if not destroying the appeals process in the name of so-called ‘production’ (measured using a misguided and wrong yardstick which assumes more patents would mean “better”, linearly). Hours ago someone left the following comment about Battistelli’s plan to send appeal judges to ‘exile’ (the EPO lied about it under the banner of "news"). “In summary,” says this person, “I still think that this is bad reform that in many respects decreases the independence of the Boards.”

Here is the full comment:

I referred to the amendments made during the last AC meeting, which, as I understand are those highlighted CA/43/16 Rev.1.

You refer to two points: the drafting of the Rules of Procedure and the involvement of the users in the BOAC.

The first point is dealt with in the new Rule 12c EPC, which, contrary to what you say, does not seem to have been amended at all during the Council.

In respect of your view that the Rules of Procedure would be drafted within the Boards, as present, it seems to be based on a superficial reading of the text.

Old Rule 12(3) EPC said that “The Presidium shall adopt the Rules of Procedure of the Boards…”.
The new Rule 12c says “On a proposal from the President of the Boards of Appeal and after the President of the European Patent Office has been given the opportunity to comment, the Committee set up under paragraph 1 (BOAC) shall adopt the Rules of Procedure of the Boards of Appeal and of the Enlarged Board of Appeal. “ Thus you see that the President of the Boards can only make a proposal but the adoption, i.e. the formulation of the final text, has been moved from the Boards to the BOAC after giving the President of the Office (which was previously not involved at all) the opportunity to comment. That is clearly a step in the direction of less independence.

In respect of the involvement of the users, it is true that the proposal has been amended to say that the BOAC “carry out, where necessary, user consultations on matters of direct concern to users, such as proposals to amend the Rules of Procedure of the Boards of Appeal and of the Enlarged Board of Appeal. “ But given how the opinions voiced by the users in the last consultation have not been into account, that is what I call a cosmetic amendment.

In summary I still think that this is bad reform that in many respects decreases the independence of the Boards. The fact that even worse reforms could and have been proposed is not a good reason for passing a bad reform. The members of the Council were right when they initially rejected it and I wonder on the basis of which deal struck behind closed doors they finally accepted it.

Patent offices live or die (or set their prices) based on demand and based on quality of examination. Unless ENA doctrine is elbowed out of the EPO, prices will have to drop (to maintain a level demand), just like recruitment standards fell, in a desperate effort to fill up the vacuum amid EPO brain drain.

Another fearsome outcome of all this — one which more directly impacts everyone in Europe — is that many low-quality patents would be granted, which would then pass all the costs to externalities like the European public, compelling small businesses which cannot afford going to court to just pay patent aggressors who fooled/tricked inexperienced EPO examiners (those recruited by the likes of Bergot) and faced no opposition from Battistelli-fearing (and understaffed) appeal boards whose cost virtually quadrupled so as to discourage appeals.

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