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07.22.16

EPO Insiders Explain Why the EPO’s Examination Quality Rapidly Declines and Will Get Even Worse Because of Willy Minnoye

Posted in Europe, Patents at 8:25 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Arrogant and abusive top-level management a major culprit

Willy Minnoye caricature

Summary: Public comments from anonymous insiders serve to highlight a growing crisis inside the European Patent Office (EPO), where experienced/senior examiners are walking away and leaving an irreplaceable bunch of seats (due to high experience demands)

THE EPO is in great danger because the people who now run it only care about short-term gains and are willing to destroy the Office (and the whole Organisation) in the long run if that personally suits them better. It’s a question of personal, institutional, and collective accountability. Both Benoît Battistelli and Willy Minnoye (hated even by the Directors, we've been told) are already in retirement age and accordingly, they were not supposed to be given the positions they now hold in the first place (as per the rules/guidelines).

What the heck is going on inside the EPO and what happened to the EPO so many of us were once so proud of?

The following comment makes the point that new recruits take a long time to be productive and for a long period of time they actually slow down their colleagues, meaning that they can either do very little (while on probationary employment period) of just grant lots of patents with minimal examination so as to satisfy Battistelli’s appetite for ‘production’ (as measured by number of grants, which is a terrible yardstick). Here is the comment in full:

Interesting timeline. When are the new recruits expected to start making a positive contribution?

In an area as complex as patents, my own experience teaches me that new recruits usually decrease productivity for quite some time (approx. 1 year). Assuming that it will take 6 to 12 months to recruit the numbers being targeted, that means that the management is effectively expecting the increased capacity provided by the new recruits to enable the backlog to be completely eliminated within about 2 years. Is that at all possible, do you think? Or is this just yet another indicator that quality will go out of the window?

On Wednesday the EPO made it rather apparent that it is unable to recruit the type of people it is looking for, having lost a lot of its talent (as insiders openly admit) and lost public respect. They’re actively lying to staff about it, but the truth of the matter is, the EPO is no longer an attractive employer. The EPO asks: “Know any engineers or scientists interested in joining an international team at the forefront of technology?”

Well, even if I knew of one, I would not recommend setting a single toe in Eponia, seeing the kind of mess Battistelli and his henchmen have sown there. It’s utterly scary and even SUEPO publicly warned about it. It said that the EPO’s management (or HR department) should be more honest/upfront about what it means to join the EPO (potentially ending up unable to find a job for years thereafter, under presidential sanctions).

Here is an EPO sceptic/apologist writing:

I see comments about overrecruiting, inflated production demands for newcomers, contracts for examiners.
It is a pity that there are no numbers attached to these allegations, no evidence.
Could any of you shed some light on this?

As I see it, the EPO has almost 4500 examiners who work, more or less, 30 years as examiner.
Doesn’t this mean that you have to recruit 150 examiners per year just to remain at constant workforce?

Has any examiner been employed on a contract already?

I think it is great that the EPO finally is doing the work they have already been paid for!

The following very detailed comment certainly comes from an insider or a former insider, based on the broad knowledge and in-house terminology. He or she explains why this policy dooms the EPO:

In order to correctly train people at the EPO you need at least three years, and this does not mean that the cost put into training are recouped. It needs in my opinion at least another two years. If the search backlog has to be down by 2020, which means in 4 years, provided the candidates are numerous enough to fill all corresponding posts. One should rather think of 3 years, as any present recruitment efforts will not bring the candidates into the office before 2017.

Creating overcapacity is always dangerous. The only way not to have a permanent problem is to give those people a five year contract. For examiners this is ludicrous for the reasons given above.

So by 2022 those people will have to leave the EPO if they are not fired before. Good scientists and engineers are getting scarce on the market. The perspective of going to The Hague/Berlin or Munich and having to leave again is very high and not encouraging. For sure no scientist or engineer having a good job will leave it for a stint at the EPO, as this also means to transplant the family. The possible candidates will be newly graduates. And for those the grass will be always greener on the other side.

One way to recoup the training costs quicker is simply to lower the training level. And request people to produce in the first year as much as 2/3 of what an experienced examiner produces. Before BEST, training in search and in examination was scheduled to be 3 years for search and 3 years for examination. When BEST came, which allegedly was giving a gain of productivity of 18%, the training time was halved. In three years an examiner has to be a good searcher and a good substantive examiner, i.e. a jack of all trades.

The quickest way to catapult the production/productivity is to use BEST as best as possible (sorry for the pun). Carry out a search with no results and then a direct grant is at the end. If this is in the interest of the applicants, even the big ones, is doubtful. It is certainly not in the interests of the so cherished SME’s by Battistelli and consorts.

And here you have your answer about the quality of what will come out. Skip corners in training and the quality goes inevitably down.

But by then VP1 who only has a faint idea of what a search is as he only ever searched in paper, will benefit from a super pension, and will have been congratulated by the AC for being an extraordinary manager, with probably an extra bonus on top.

On top of this the boards of appeal are wilfully destroyed thanks to Battistelli and consorts, with the help of an AC lacking any spine. One wonders if the AC could even be compared to a spineless shell fish. At least they have a shell. The AC seems to be nothing more than mollusc pushed around by Battistelli and consorts.

It is sickening!

Regarding decreasing experience of examiners and directors who ‘fake ‘production and were promoted for ‘loyalty’, the following comment says:

I am not an examiner, but I have understood that all reference numbers for production have been abolished. In other words: the number of files an examiner is told to produce is entirely decided by his or her director. The director gives you a number at the beginning of the year and the examiner must bring that output in december. There is a formal complaint procedure, but it brings out the same number anyway.

We have old school directors close to retirement who are trying to keep the numbers somewhat reasonable. We have newly promoted directors who have been chosen for “loyalty”.

Newly employed examiners are on a probation period. They get a set of formal courses and then they get a number of files to output till the end of the period. If they don’t bring out the number, they don’t get the contract. I would think that most of them bring out a fairly large output already in the first year. I would expect them to contribute significantly to the reduction of the backlog soon.

The problem will be to get them. Who will be desperate or ignorant enough to come to the office knowing that there will be “overcapacity” in 4 years, that you may be prevented to work for 2 years afterwards and that the Council may change any regulations (including retirement and insurances) whenever they want? The pay may be ok for someone fresh from University, but is not much higher than other places in Munich and whatever career opportunities examiners had (like being promoted to the board of appeal) has disappeared.

The issue with artificial “targets” for examination are brought up in this comment which asks for further information or brings up half-rhetorical questions:

Thanks for the info. Would you happen to know whether the “production” targets for newly-appointed examiners are significantly lower than those of their more experienced colleagues? It would be insane for new recruits to have (nearly) the same targets as experienced examiners, but you never know with the EPO these days…

The response to this was as follows:

I don’t know, but I imagine the number depends on the director. This is why the problem is not out: there are no official instructions, it just depends on the hierarchy being “loyal”. Of course, they were chosen accordingly.

What you should also realise is that the system works entirely in one direction: Minnoye thinks aloud the figures he wants (say: divide the stock by 4 for 4 years…) and the hierarchy pass them down. Reportedly, with the new style of “loyal” directors, some examiners were presented with figures much higher than last year. Tough luck, they just have to comply or face disciplinary sanctions. If I understood correctly, in the next council Battistelli wants to make these dismissals a simple administrative measure.
How do you think we were able to increase production 15% last year with less examiners?

What I don’t understand is how they expect to recruit any people at all, but Minnoye probably has a plan.

Well, with staff suicides and other bad news in the press (the EPO spends a fortune trying to change the media and dilute it with paid puff pieces), how would they attract skilled examiners?

Well, one day in the future we shall give an example of stories of people who favour the UK-IPO over EPO for reasons to do with sheer incompetence at the EPO. It’s too early to write about this because there’s a dispute ongoing and we don’t want to compromise or interfere with it. In light of that consider the following new comment:

Meanwhile, while the EPO has been eroding its USP (excellent search and examination quality), external parameters have changed, and the national route is increasingly attractive. Translation is now very cheap. You don’t need a middleman in each country (at least not in most EU/EEA/EFTA countries), and most importantly you don’t get tied up in fatuous, artificial arguments with examiners who haven’t had time to consider the facts and arguments properly.

To end it with somewhat of a joke:

Secret FAQ …

would like to reassure any applicant that every application will get the same high quality treatment as before, yet we’ll by give more responsibility to the Division (read: pressure to the Division) to bring a case to a conclusion (under pressure).

Early Certainty sooner than you expected.

We need a new thread for this.

Well, as leaked documents serve to show, pressure is put on examiners to grant to Microsoft faster (demonstrating that the above observations are definitely true in practice). Sadly, the EPO sent me a series of threatening legal letters on this matter alone, after my earlier leaks had caused huge backlash from stakeholders.

Today’s EPO is the kind of employer that anyone with a clue would not join (it’s different if one is already there), unless one is fanatic about the “following orders” mentality.

Battistelli, a French republican, has cultivated a culture of fear at all levels (examination, administration, management) and even outside the Office, e.g. appeal boards and delegations. He ruined the whole Office and time will tell if the ‘old’ (widely-respected) EPO can still be salvaged somehow. We sure hope so.

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