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The Sky is the Limit for EPO Management as Patent Quality is Lowered to Gutter Level

Posted in Europe, Patents at 8:01 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Working the ‘peasants’ to death during the pandemic

EPO and masks

Summary: EPO management quit caring about staff and about patent quality; it’s nowadays operating like nothing but a bank, occasionally to be challenged by examiners who feel like they’ve been reduced to mindless clerks

The Central Staff Committee (CSC, staff representatives) of the EPO has been corresponding with Mr. Microsoft lately, highlighting to him the fact that there’s this thing called pandemic going on and Office management cannot simply ignore that.

These representatives explained to colleagues that “[o]n 29 January 2021, the Local Staff Committee Munich (LSCMN) sent an open letter to Mr Rowan (VP1) on the promised bottom-up planning in DG1 which never really materialized. The number of colleagues faced with unreachable objectives has this year reached unprecedented levels, especially amongst those in the ICT cluster. Timeliness objectives are turning into a covert means to increase productivity targets. Mr Rowan (VP1) sent his reply on 15 March 2021.”

Mr. too-busy-to-respond was able to issue several Microsoft ads (lies) in that same period of time. While ignoring a query for 1.5 months. Here is what he wrote (in Microsoft Office) a few days after we started exposing the Microsoft scandal:

European Patent Office | 2280 HV RIJSWIJK | NETHERLANDS

Mr █████████ █████████ █████████
Chairman Local Staff Committee Munich
Room █████

European Patent Office
Postbus 5818 2280 HV Rijswijk

Dir. 1
Patent Granting Process

Steve Rowan
Vice President

Tel +31 (0)70 340 – 2000

Date: 15.03.2021

Dear Mr ███████,

Thank you for your letter of the 29 January concerning the target setting in DG1 for the year 2021.

In your letter you make the assertion that the bottom-up planning process in DG1, ‘never really materialized. This year is no exception’. In 2019 the planning process for 2020 involved a bottom-up exercise alongside the usual budgetary planning and the medium-term business planning (MTBP) processes. In that activity, the budget and MTBP for 2020 suggested a production target of 419k products whereas the bottom-up exercise suggested a target of 407k products. At an Executive Operating Committee meeting, the President set the DG1 target for 2020 at 407k – fully in line with the bottom-up plan.

When the pandemic broke out, all colleagues who were experiencing difficulties were encouraged to discuss their targets with their line managers. In addition, a full review of targets was undertaken at mid-year and as a result some 7000 products were taken off individual targets.

Thanks to the efforts and commitment of colleagues from across the Office, the production of 402k products was realised in 2020. This was a significant achievement and was accompanied by outstanding quality in search and classification and improving quality in grant. Excellence levels were achieved in tackling the classification backlog, a significant investment was made in SP2023 projects and there were improvements in timeliness in search and examination. Alongside this, a digital transformation in tools and processes was implemented.

Turning to the process for 2021, the bottom-up planning, after adjustments for some errors resulting from changes to team structures, came out at 390k products while the initial budget plan and MTBP suggested a production of 412k. This was later revised to 395k to reflect the global economic slow-down.

In setting the production target for DG1 for 2021, the bottom-up planning and budget were considered alongside other factors including:

• the ongoing pandemic and its impact on colleagues;
• continuing the improvement in our examination timeliness;
• processing new oppositions in parallel with tackling the backlog of oppositions;
• mastering the incoming workload and achieving a soft landing of our stocks;
• maintaining our financial autonomy and improving our overall efficiency.

A production target of 390k would not have achieved these objectives. As such, a target of 395k was set and cascaded in consultation with Directors, team managers and examiners. Overall, the production and productivity targets for 2021 are set at 96% of the achievement for 2019. The bottom-up exercise played an important role in informing the discussion and the final decision on target setting for 2021. The exceptional closure of the Office at the start of this year should have been taken into account for each examiner and I will ask the relevant team to look into this.

As with last year we will carry out a mid-year review in June/July and this will be an opportunity for colleagues to discuss individual circumstances with their line manager. The President has also made clear that if, in the meantime, there are individuals who are experiencing particular difficulties, then they should speak to their line manager. We remain in a pandemic situation and with different pressures on each of us. The emphasis remains on health and well being and on best and collaborative efforts.

Yours sincerely,

Stephen Rowan

“The emphasis remains on health,” he says, but EPO managers aren’t even wearing a mask. How basic…

EPO hypocrites

So targets go up while number of examiners is decreasing, as per the EPO’s own reports.

Going back to the word of the EPO’s staff representatives: “In this open letter to Mr Rowan (VP1), the Central Staff Committee (CSC) now addresses the fact that 32% of all examiners in 2021 have been given a higher production objective than in 2019 and that a +2.2% increase in productivity is planned in 2021, compared to 2020.

“We remain in a pandemic situation with pressure on each of us. Given this and the feedback we are getting from staff, we doubt that such an increase in productivity from one pandemic year to the next can be the result of genuine bottom-up planning. It is also difficult to reconcile with Mr Rowan’s claim for an emphasis on health and well-being and on best and collaborative efforts.”

“Therefore, we believe that a discussion meeting with Mr Rowan (VP1) is more than necessary to clarify the situation.”

Somebody ‘leaked’ to us the open letter, which we’ve decided to reproduce below:

European Patent Office
80298 Munich

Zentraler Personalausschuss
Central Staff Committee
Le Comité Central du Personnel

Tel. +49 (0)89 2399 – 4355
Fax +49 (0)89 2399 – 8470

Reference: sc21039cl – 0.3.1/1.3.3
Date: 19.03.2021

European Patent Office | 80298 MUNICH | GERMANY

Mr Stephen Rowan
Vice-President DG1

Room 211 Isar


Target setting in DG1 for the year 2021 Demand for urgent meeting

Dear Mr Rowan,

We acknowledge receipt of your reply letter dated 15 March in response to our demand for an urgent meeting of 29 January 2021. We take note that your letter comes with no meeting invitation.

Since the publication of our open letter, all places of employment and further colleagues shared feedback and their support to the view that no genuine bottom-up planning ever materialized.

In your reply letter, you stress that the “[o]verall production and productivity objectives for 2021 are set at 96% of the achievement of 2019 and your weekly note of 17 February 2021 further details that “[a]t DG1 level, over 65% received lower production objectives in 2021 compared to what they achieved in 2019 [...] overall 32% of all examiners received a higher production objective”.

First, our letter aimed at comparing the objectives for the pandemic years 2021 and 2020, and not with the year 2019. However, the fact that 32% of all examiners in 2021 received a higher production objective than 2019 is already a matter of concern because 2021 is again a pandemic year whereas 2019 was not. In this respect, we maintain our request for

detailed data which could shed light on the alarming situation of colleagues in ICT.

Second, your letter mentions that, in 2020, 402k products were realised and the target for 2021 will be lower at 395k. However, the Medium-Term-Business-Plan (MTBP) and the involvement in SP2023 projects you are referring to actually have the following consequences: the non-replacement of departures and a freeze in recruitment reducing the headcount in DG1, as well as lower capacity for core tasks. The effects are actually shown in the DG1 Management Dashboard according to which a +2.2% increase in productivity (1,80 days per product in 2021 vs. 1,84 days per product in 2020) is planned.

We remain in a pandemic situation with pressure on each of us. Bearing this in mind and the feedback we get from staff, we doubt that such an increase in productivity from one pandemic year to the other can be the result of a genuine bottom-up planning. It is also difficult to reconcile with your claim for an emphasis on health and well-being and on best and collaborative efforts.

For the above reasons, we believe that a discussion meeting is more than necessary to clarify the situation.

Yours sincerely,
Alain Dumont

Chairman of the Central Staff Committee

EPO management without scientific background (just political and personal connections) seems incapable of grasping what patents are, how patent law works, and what its original purpose was. They think and behave like a bank, instead. Until the Council decides to flush down this entire cabal — however unlikely that is to actually happen — the EPO will never be a patent office again. It’s just printing and printing, until people are fed up and give up. To quote a few comments published this morning in IP Kat (comments, not posts): “It seems to be that the EBA has already acted in its current dubious composition. It has decided to summons by videoconference with a very tight deadline.” (Source)

There is also: “In view of this amazing situation any composition according to the distribution scheme for the EBA is not worth the paper it is written on!” (Source)

And lastly, for now (there’s a lot more): “I find the amazing the nerve put to light by the upper management. When it came to deciding that OP in the form of ViCo are compulsory, users were not asked for their opinion.” (Source)

That’s what stakeholders are thinking, but the media mostly ignores them.

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