11.23.17

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The European Patent Office Has Become the ‘Foxconn’ of Patent Offices

Posted in Europe, Patents at 5:37 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Suicide nets? Instead, windows have been bolted shut at the EPO.

Foxconn suicide nets
Photo credit: Gizmodo

Summary: The demise of the EPO, which emulates patent offices that are racing to the bottom, is a life-threatening employer which now jeopardises its very existence

THE EPO under Battistelli has already seen nearly seven suicides. Some workers would rather be dead than alive, seeing themselves subjected to Chinese trials (politics or a ‘royal’ decree as arbiter), Chinese human rights, Chinese ‘justice’ (on patents), and SIPO examination standards.

“Some workers would rather be dead than alive, seeing themselves subjected to Chinese trials (politics or a ‘royal’ decree as arbiter), Chinese human rights, Chinese ‘justice’ (on patents), and SIPO examination standards.”It’s no secret that patent quality has sunk. European Patents (EPs) are nowhere near the same level of quality they’ve boasted about for decades. In fact, many were recently invalidated in bulk owing to intervention from outside the Office. Those were patents on life. But the push for patents on plants, as one might expect, carries on. Who’s behind it? People who are trying to ‘own’ plants — as ridiculous as that notion would seem to a farmer and outlandish even to aliens. As IP Watch put it earlier today: “A new “position paper” by a plant breeders industry group revives the argument that plant-related inventions should be patentable. New plant breeding techniques modifying the plant genome are not essentially biological processes, thus should be patentable, the paper says. The group also calls for a worldwide harmonised research exemption on plant variety rights and patents for the purpose of improving the invention.”

EPs on genome made their debut in the EPO this year. Even the USPTO had rejected such patents. Would these be invalidated en masse some time in the next year or two? We don’t know. But this, among other things, is a symptom of the worrying quality of EPs. Many EPs are still being granted on software — a subject we shall deal with separately — even though such patents are banned almost everywhere but China.

China?

“Many EPs are still being granted on software — a subject we shall deal with separately — even though such patents are banned almost everywhere but China.”Yes, China.

I have nothing against China, but their patent system is trouble. It’s also a recipe for disaster. Last year alone the number of patent applications there exceeded one million. It may sound like a joke, but it’s not. That’s an order of magnitude more than countries of the same size. So do such patents represent a surge/boom for innovation in China? Of course not. It’s just a patent gold rush that is being encouraged by the government as a matter of policy.

The United States, by contrast, tightens patent scope. In addition, the number of patent applications from the US (for EPs) nosedived over the past year. The EPO tries hard to hide or at least belittle this nugget of information.

“…the number of patent applications from the US (for EPs) nosedived over the past year.”Earlier today the EPO wrote that “Patent Translate helps you understand patent documents from all over the world,” but as even EPO insiders repeatedly explain, automated translations of technical documents don’t work well. There’s no ‘magic’ bridge for legal purposes. One cannot rely on an incomprehensible document either to study a patent or deal with legal action. I spoke to someone (earlier today) whose application for a European Patent was rejected. I told him not to worry because examiners work too fast, so inevitably mistakes are made. Sometimes applications get rejected based on formalities alone. If it carries on like that, people may stop bothering; they will stop even applying. Patent applications are down at the EPO (not worldwide) and not even growth from China has been enough to balance the books (it was still down year-to-year). So guess where Battistelli is flying. The EPO was proud to state (this afternoon) that Battistelli met (warning: epo.org link) the person whom he had previously met where he's a politician (in the same town in France). If the EPO is aspiring to be close to the worst patent office (in terms of scope/quality), what does that say about Battistelli’s goals?

Check out the last paragraph:

China is a leading country of origin for patent applications at the EPO (6th largest country of origin), and applications from China have grown rapidly in recent years (+25% in 2016). With Huawei (no. 2) and ZTE (no.22), two Chinese companies were among the most active patent filing companies at the EPO last year.

China won’t save the EPO. It will merely destroy the reputation of EPs. There has been this one news report parroting the above and it repeated the same talking point: “Applications from China at the EPO grew by 25 percent in 2016, with Chinese telecommunications company, Huawei, becoming the second most active patent filing company at the EPO last year.”

Notice the wording. It’s almost like a copy-paste job edited somewhat to look original. Maybe the EPO’s PR team ‘shipped’ it over for publication — something which journalists I’ve met in person told me that the EPO certainly does.

“Maybe the EPO’s PR team ‘shipped’ it over for publication — something which journalists I’ve met in person told me that the EPO certainly does.”If this is all that Battistelli has to brag about, then the EPO is in serious trouble. He recently reduced fees and the Office changed methods of payment, probably to offset the declining ‘demand’ for EPs. Earlier today the EPO wrote: “Patent fee payment methods will change on 1 Dec 2017.”

That’s next week. We remind readers that if it seems like there’s an increase in applications (and that’s a big if), one must account for decrease in fees. When granting soars by about 40% and applications decline in the same period of time, well… any scientist can tell that it spells doom. So-called ‘production’ vastly outpaces ‘demand’. The good, experienced examiners (i.e. scientists) won’t relocate to Munich (with family that doesn’t speak German) to work for an Office on a short-term contract and writings on the wall that say “layoffs coming”.

“When granting soars by about 40% and applications decline in the same period of time, well… any scientist can tell that it spells doom.”We are not exaggerating when we say that the EPO faces a mortal danger. Insiders say so too.

Recent articles about SUEPO and sources closest to SUEPO used the following lemon analogy: “One thing is sure, Campinos will find a problematic legacy which no doubt will hinder progress—a squeezed lemon does not produce much.”

Also among the quotes: “With a precarious future, there will be a temptation to squirrel away as much cash as possible for the post-EPO life. Some will do so honourably, others perhaps less so. Employees have access to highly confidential, sensitive industrial secrets worth hundreds of millions of euro.”

Among the more recent quotes, the product pressure is “sabotaging the arrival of Campinos since it will be hard for Campinos to maintain such extravagant production pressure in the future”.

“We are not exaggerating when we say that the EPO faces a mortal danger.”The SUEPO memo is quoted as saying: “The permanent and excessive work pressure and unreachable targets are likely to cause staff members to become sick and exhausted. That is not a good place to be. [...] First of all, illness is always unpleasant. But also, the callous way with which the office treats sick colleagues is not conducive to reduction of the stress levels, and can lock the sick colleagues in a vicious circle.”

Regarding quality, this latter article (cited by SUEPO right now) says “the 15,000-product increase was a problem as it comes suddenly at the end of the year, comes years after a steady increase and puts patent quantity before quality.”

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