05.16.19

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The EPO’s Key Function — Like the UPC’s Vision — Has Virtually Collapsed

Posted in Europe, Patents at 4:45 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Claims to the contrary are an exercise in public relations (PR)

António Campinos FTI

Summary: The EPO no longer issues good patents and staff is extremely unhappy; but the Office tries to create an alternate (false) reality and issues intentionally misleading statements

TWO years ago IAM kept spreading fake news (intentionally false news) about the UPC in Spain after the European Patent Office (EPO) had paid IAM for UPC promotion. The payments are often made by proxy, e.g. PR firms and grants which the EPO still advertises every day this month (also yesterday, as usual).

“Right now, in 2019, the UPC is as dead as can be.”2 years ago (prior to the official complaint) we needed to rebut fabricated “news” about the UPC every other day. It was very frequent and IP Kat was also responsible for these fabrications. It had adopted Bristows and CIPA staff, so what else could be expected?

Right now, in 2019, the UPC is as dead as can be. Ahead of the EU election (later this month) almost nobody even mentions it. “Only the PNV (Nationalist Basque Country) and the Catalonian Independentist Parties (“Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya” and “Junts per Catalunya”) explicitly stated to be in favour of joining the “Unitary Patent”,” Benjamin Henrion (FFII) quoted from yesterday’s post that shows physical inventions and is summarised as follows: “We are approaching a momentous date for the future of Europe. On the 26th of May 28 countries will go to the polls to elect their representatives in the European Parliament. I have compiled some stories where politics and #patents are closely interlinked…”

To quote the relevant part:

After this historical summary of politicians that were inventors and patented their inventions and about patents that played a role in the politics of the last two centuries, we will have to wait for the results of next European Elections to see if there will be any change in the European Patent System. Undoubtedly, the patent-related issue at stake nowadays is the so called “Unitary Patent” and the “UPC” (Unitary Patent Court). It is well known that Spain did not join it either with a “Popular Party” Government or with a “Socialist Party” Government. Analysing the electoral programmes of the last general elections, only the PNV (Nationalist Basque Country) and the Catalonian Independentist Parties (“Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya” and “Junts per Catalunya”) explicitly stated to be in favour of joining the “Unitary Patent”. A quick review of the electoral programs of the Spanish parties for next elections for the European Parliament shows that there is no reference whatsoever to the “European Patent with unitary effects” or “unitary patent”. In any case, the project is in a “standby” situation, awaiting the outcome of Brexit and of the appeal to the German Constitutional Court.

Calling it “standby” is an understatement; that’s like saying that ACTA in Europe is on “standby”. We could also make a joke about Berlin Airport…

UPC boosters hope that new courts will help them bypass national laws, such as laws forbidding European software patents (national courts typically reject these). Even the US learned to reject these, citing 35 U.S.C. § 101, which the new USPTO Director dislikes.

We’ve already mentioned before all sorts of hype waves that the EPO rides to mask or masquerade software patents. Yesterday it brought up “SDV” again when it wrote: “This study provides a comprehensive picture of current trends and emerging leaders in #SDV technologies…”

Those are mostly computer vision algorithms. How about this EU tweet that the EPO retweeted yesterday? It demonstrates overlap between the EPO and EU (other than the UPC). “Study visit to the European Patent Office in Munich,” it said. “On 27 June, 2019, university students of all fields will once again get the chance to learn about the European patent system and get to know @EPOorg.”

It contains the Team Campinos/Battistelli agenda at the EPO. From the cited page: “AI-based inventions and the new problems they may pose to the examiners on their way from a patent application to a granted patent.”

They mean algorithms; they just call these “AI”, as usual. Here’s the key paragraph in full, from the EU’s Web site:

In particular, this study visit will focus on Artificial Intelligence and patents. Additionally to providing the participants with an overview of the EPO and the European patent system, it will guide them into the complex field of AI-based inventions and the new problems they may pose to the examiners on their way from a patent application to a granted patent.

So the EU is totally ‘on board’ with the EPO’s software patents agenda. Never mind its very own directive against these? Never mind the EPC? Never mind European caselaw? Who’s controlling whose policy? Does the EPO decide EU policy now? We’ve already seen many inversions of roles, including the ‘boss’ of Campinos becoming his assistant in exchange for a sharp pay hike. We’re talking about Christoph Ernst, who was publicly rejecting clear evidence of decline in patent quality. The man is a liar, not just a lawyer. Here is what the EPO’s “news” section published about him yesterday: (warning: epo.org link)

There are over 300 patent information centres, also known as PATLIB centres, across the EPO’s member states. Together, they form a Pan-European network of IP expertise giving advice and providing services to innovators in SMEs, universities and research institutions, and to individual inventors. The network was formed more than 30 years ago, and the summit was the first event since then to go to the core of its concept, looking at a major revision of the way it works – an initiative dubbed “PATLIB 2.0″.

[...]

Closing the summit, EPO Vice-President Christoph Ernst said: “We will analyse what the recommendations mean and what options we have for implementing them in a meaningful way that brings true benefits to all PATLIB centres and their users.”

No, the EPO analyses nothing; as we explained yesterday, it even buries its very own reports that reveal unflattering facts. Remember the so-called ‘survey’ commission by the EPO? The Central Staff Committee’s report on it was reposted here some time yesterday; It responds to attempted whitewashing of this self-serving (funded by EPO management) 'survey':

The results of the Office wide staff survey “Your voice, our future” are out and they are nothing short of a disaster. We share the analysis in the article published on KluwerPatent blog: many expected the results to be bad, but few expected them to be so abysmal. The EPO scores far below the expected level of an international organisation.

Introduction
Earlier this year, Mr Campinos conducted the first Office-wide staff survey since 2016. Following the extremely negative feedback his predecessor, Mr Battistelli, had received on his leadership in a 2011 survey, EPO staff were only surveyed once more during his presidency, and then only within the context of his “2016 Social Study”. However, just three years later and with a new President, staff were apparently eager to be heard: the participation rate was at a record-breaking 85% (2011: 72%). Nevertheless, the results of the present survey remain a great concern. Moreover, the same problems that have plagued the Office for many years are still very evident and unresolved.
We encourage all colleagues to review the results for themselves and draw their own conclusions. This paper simply presents and comments upon what we consider to be the main findings from an analysis of the results.

43 shades of red
Willis Towers Watson (WTW) goes to great lengths to make sure there is at least some green to be seen on every slide, but the predominant colour is red. In the slides comparing responses between different DG’s or between Job Groups, it might appear that only DG1 & Job Group 4 (read: examiners) score red. But that’s not the case: all DG’s, all Job Groups score often well below any external benchmark on almost all categories, as acknowledged by the consultants during their presentation.
Also, WTW aggregated the ‘agree’ and ‘tend to agree’ into one green block, and the ‘tend to disagree’ and ‘disagree’ into one red block for the presentation of the results. When asked “Why?” by the Staff Representation during their presentation, WTW claimed that splitting the graphs would have complicated the overview. We disagree. A simple shade between solid and light green, solid and light red would have done the trick. WTW admitted that the information was available (how could it not be?). However, as far as we know, it will not be shared with staff, but visible just to management. So much for transparency…

The overall picture
The most strikingly negative results are those that relate to senior management. Only 16% of staff has confidence in the decisions made by senior management. That score is 56 points below the “Europe norm” benchmark. Low scores for senior management have been a consistent feature of EPO staff surveys since records began. In our opinion, the present survey’s questions were not really designed to reveal the underlying causes. Maybe significantly, there were no questions directly addressing the quality of the EPO’s “products” to the outside world. Nevertheless, the participants in the Boards of Appeal (BoA) Unit judged the quality of the “services” provided (to them) by their colleagues in the Office, i.e. DG1, as 37 points below norm. The consultants could do little else than identify the quality of the EPO’s “services” as a cause for concern, noting “the Office scored 43 points below norm on “commitment to quality is apparent in what we do on a day- to-day basis”.
Relying on questions about how well senior management communicates and whether they provide a clear sense of direction, the only reaction of management to poor results has always been “we need to communicate better”. Coming today to exactly the same conclusion without even trying to tackle the root causes just adds insult to injury. Staff appear to understand where management is trying to go (Basically: higher productivity, lower quality, less pay for staff and more pay for the top brass), they just don’t agree on either the final destination or the route to be taken. Some 68% strongly believe in the mission of the Office, but most are unconvinced about where senior management is taking it. More significantly, only 20% consider that “the Office” is effective at identifying the changes that are necessary to ensure our long-term success.
The low score on “effort made to get the opinions of staff” must be particularly frustrating for Mr Campinos, who has personally spent quite a lot of time engaging with staff in individual meetings. This communication exercise has apparently not convinced staff that it might influence his decision making.
The consultants (Willis Tower Watson) summarise the results as follows: “Views on remuneration and well-being are positive compared to external benchmarks. Results are below external benchmarks on all other categories.” However, these derived results from the survey responses particularly for remuneration and well-being are questionable. For example, no clear questions on career prospects or general health have been asked.

For both remuneration and well-being we want to add some further caveats.

Remuneration
The more detailed results show that our recent recruits (staff with less than 5 years experience in the Office – see e.g. page 35 of the annex to the overall results presentation) are significantly less satisfied with their pay than their older colleagues. This should be a warning for management because these new recruits are the staff who have only experience of the new career system and yet they will have to remain engaged to carry the Office through in the future. We think that the EPO would also be well advised to try and identify the reasons why some 30% of staff think they are not paid fairly compared to others working in the Office, and why 35% think their personal performance on the job is not rewarded fairly.

Well-being and lack of respect
Concerning the relatively favourable scores for well-being, these seem mainly driven by work- schedule flexibility and the positive answers to questions such as: “My immediate manager cares about my well-being” and “People in my unit care about each other’s well-being”. But other questions that apparently do not enter into the well-being score – but are clearly related to staff well-being – show a very different picture: 63% of the respondents consider that insufficient effort is made to get the opinions of staff and 58% do not feel free to speak their mind. Even more worryingly, only 20% state that they do feel free to speak up. Nearly half (49%) responded negatively to the statement that “all staff are treated with respect here” and 44% of staff feel that they lack any opportunity for personal development. This is not a picture of staff feeling well in their work environment.
It is also striking that not a single question in the survey was directed at the perceived health of staff, yet the number of stress related diseases and burn-outs has increased by 25% between 2017 and 2018 and sick leave in DG1 (some 77% of staff) increased by 20% over the same period. In our view this should have prompted management and the consultants to enquire more about staff health.
In view of the above, not only is the internal benchmarking with respect to well-being inadequate, but also a meaningful comparison with an external genuine benchmark on well-being appears entirely questionable.

What next?
Mr Campinos comments on the survey results in a communiqué to staff entitled “Your voice, our future results”. The addition to the survey title of the word “results” is small but significant in that it indicates to us what really matters to our President. Further indications can be found in the text that follows: “the responsibility to rectify any shortcomings falls to us all and everyone will now play their part in improving staff engagement – on the basis of shared responsibility. As one organization, we will take shared ownership of this report, assess the findings with our colleagues and work together to collectively address the issues that have been identified.” This sounds very much like “you will solve my problems”. Pushing responsibility for the bad survey results back to staff is unlikely to build greater confidence in senior management, the number one focus area for attention identified by the consultants.
We can only hope that Mr Campinos will realize that good “results” can only be achieved by a motivated staff and that he will find better ways to motivate staff.

Our provisional conclusion
Anyone going through the 2011 WTW survey, or browsing through the 2016 PWC Social Study, the 2016 Technologia Staff Survey, and the recent IT Audit will see that today’s survey results are neither a surprise nor a statistical anomaly. Instead, they are a dangerous continuation of a long- standing trend, that of a sinking ship. We are concerned that the apparent reaction of the President in his communiqué “Your voice, our future results” is not proportionate to the seriousness of the situation. Simply rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic won’t do.
The survey “Your voice, our future” is also, in our opinion, incomplete. For instance, there are no questions asked that allow to assess the current level of psychosocial risk in the Office, yet this has been raised as a concern in previous surveys. This calls for a remedy: the 4th edition of the 3- yearly Technologia Staff Survey (already ran in 2010, 2013, 2016) should normally be launched after the summer break.
In the meantime, those senior managers whose policies have led to the disastrous results of the survey, and in particular those who have simply stood by and watched it happen, are invited to reflect on their position and consider stepping down.

The Central Staff Committee

As the above makes clear, things aren’t improving at the EPO and sources tell us that it will boil over some time soon, perhaps as soon as SUEPO starts issuing demands and calling for protests. Campinos has had nearly a year to turn things around, but on many occasions he unmasked himself as just another Battistelli (except the presumption of goodwill when he first arrived at the Office).

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