11.07.20

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EPO Insider Explains “Team Leaders” and the Downfall of the EPO

Posted in Europe, Patents at 5:08 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

EPO is ‘funktionshäftling‘ now

The Office three-way gun fight: AC, ILO, EPO

Summary: The EPO is going down the drain because it fails to function the way it was intended to function (in pursuit of totally misguided goals)

THE EPO’s crisis has not ended. People are just quiet about it and the press says nothing (by choice). The other day Thorsten Bausch (Hoffmann Eitle) wrote something about it for the first time in months. We particularly like comments such as this. About a day after SUEPO had linked to it from its public homepage someone left the following comment, as recently as yesterday (“November 6, 2020 at 4:13 pm”), under the name “What is at stake is not only the independence of the boards of appeal” and it’s worth reproducing for all EPO workers who read Techrights (there are thousands of them):

The problem of the 5 years contracts is not a problem typical for the boards of appeal of the EPO, but is valid nowadays for the whole EPO.

In the past, an appointment to director or principal director was for a lifetime. Only members of the boards of appeal were appointed for renewable 5-year periods.

I do not know where this different treatment came from, but it would be interesting to dig into the “Travaux Préparatoires” of the EPC 1973. Up to the penultimate president of the EPO, a member of the boards was always reappointed without any problem.

In order to “increase the perception of independence” of the boards, the penultimate president pushed the AC to introduce R 12d making the reappointment of a member subject to a performance assessment, in other words subject to the quantity of files dealt with by a member. The deleterious atmosphere of DG1 has now found its way into the boards of appeal.

It goes however further. The EPO management used the pretext of appointing board members for only five years as an excuse to first apply this rule to principal directors (PD): they are thus only appointed for five years.

It made it possible to put PDs under heavy pressure, and one could observe these people being on tender hooks from 3 ½ years onwards.

The rule of only 5 years appointments was then passed down to the director level. And then mega-directorates were created by the penultimate VP1. Whilst the Interim Committee preceding the opening of the EPO decided on 12 examiners/director, they are now responsible for several tens of examiners and “Team Leaders” were introduced, and the 5-years policy went a step further down. Team leaders do the job of a director, but they stay examiners.

The 5 year rule presently applies also to examiners. A newly recruited examiner only gets a renewable 5 years year contract to start with. A lifetime appointment as examiner is only possible after the successful achievement of a second 5 years period. But any step further up in the hierarchy is only available with renewable 5 years contracts.

Senior management has thus managed to put pressure on the entire workforce of the EPO. Anyone who doesn’t keep up with the allotted objectives or becomes unruly in the view of the management will be fired, unless he belongs to the illustrious circle of favourites and mignons, but those people are always excellent performers……

The problem of true independence is therefore not just a problem of the boards of appeal but one that permeates the whole EPO.

And this has deleterious consequences. These are of course worst and most obvious in the boards, but the problem also applies to the rest of the EPO.

As far as the examiners are concerned, it is very simple: if you don’t achieve the allotted target, you are incompetent and will be fired. In the past, you could only be fired after a disciplinary procedure.

Under the penultimate president Staff Regulations were amended so that in the event of “professional incompetence”, no disciplinary procedure is necessary to be fired. This has also significantly reduced the possibility to complain internally or to the Administrative Tribunal of the ILO. Being a discretionary decision, the power of revision of the ILO tribunal is very limited and the latter will only intervene when there has been a blatant abuse of power.

The boards of appeal only represent the tip of the iceberg when it comes to independence, but the boards are by no means the only place where the independence of the EPO’s staff is in question. According to the penultimate president all those measures had a more than positive effect on quality! Who dares dispute this view? If you do, you get fired like in a well know US TV reality show.

Senior management behaves like 19th century employers, and that is not acceptable in the 21th century. And on top of it senior management has no responsibility and systematically refers to its immunity. But immunity is not impunity. The AC has been gullible for all those changes and it continues on this path with the present president. The tail is indeed wagging the dog. One wonders why?

Also mind the following comment, left by “Francis Hagel” earlier today (“3:43 pm”) regarding software patents in Europe or “CII” with the ‘technical’ mirage (in yellow below):

I agree with your concern that the appointment of BOA members should not be based on their supposed personal views on politically charged issues. I have comments though on the divide between technical and legal judges or BOA members. Court judges and BOA members are supposed to make decisions independently from the wishes of the executive (government or EPO management or AC), ie they must not be result-oriented in a political sense. At the same time, they should take into account the purpose of the rule in their interpretations, which is different. And also pay attention to other aspects of prime significance to all stakeholders : the consistency and predictability of the jurisprudence, the clarity of the reasoning and of the conclusions.

As to technical judges or BOA members, I find the metaphor of the current flow simplistic. A cornerstone of the BOA jurisprudence and EPO doctrines is the reliance on the technical character. Following the current flow metaphor, it should be simple to decide whether something is technical or not. This could look simple indeed in the 70’s. However, this word has never been defined and the EBA has stated that it did not feel compelled to provide a specific definition, given the evolutions of technology and of their fields of application. As a matter of fact, a BOA decision acknowledged this was a grey area. The reliance on such a fuzzy notion leads to overly complex reasoning in CII cases grappling with the entanglement between supposedly technical and non-technical aspects, and the definition of a divided skilled person comprising a business person and a technical person, only creating unnecessary uncertainties.

We’re gratified to see that more people recognise this deep dishonesty. The term “technical” is even more meaningless/vague/broad than “HEY HI” (AI); the EPO isn’t run by scientists anymore (has not been for 13 years!) and Benoît Battistelli/António Campinos are the pinnacle of the EPO’s demise, cementing a dark destiny because the EPO is unable to recruit the people it needs. It moreover fires many who are skilled and competent, accusing them of “incompetence” instead (“incompetent” typically means one who follows the law rather than unlawful orders from Battistelli/Campinos/Bergot).

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