03.25.21

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EPO Staff Representation Again Warns About Collapse in Patent Quality (Due to Bad Management), Suggests Potential Improvements

Posted in Europe, Patents at 11:28 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Fish bowl

Summary: The Central Staff Committee (CSC) of the EPO shares findings about a pilot programme that attempts to correct or reverse an otherwise-worrying trend of declines in European Patent quality, noting that “negative impact on quality was soon observed, resulting in numerous WIPO complaints.”

THE past few years saw several attempts to warn EPO management (clueless politicians, not technical people) that patent quality had fallen. Both Benoît Battistelli and António Campinos basically responded by attacking the messengers (e.g. in 2019 under Campinos). At the same time they rebranded illegal patents (such as European software patents) using a bunch of meaningless buzzwords, boosted in part by UN/WIPO. They awarded loads of patents that should have been rejected; and had proper procedures been put in place, the applications wouldn’t have arrived either. They basically invite a whole lot of junk applications; many will be erroneously granted, causing potential legal mayhem and harming the European economy.

“They basically invite a whole lot of junk applications; many will be erroneously granted, causing potential legal mayhem and harming the European economy.”The Central Staff Committee of the EPO has circulated the following paper, which is dated last Friday. “The 2018 reorganisation de-centralised tasks into small teams and demanded that Formalities Officers (FOs) diversify in several procedures,” it noted. “This structure created an artificial situation of understaffing in many FO teams. Many colleagues suffered from demotivation and reported higher stress levels. The current pilot project on centralisation of international phase procedures is an initiative that can improve this situation.”

“The feedback received so far is very promising,” they said, for a change. “A proper evaluation of the outcome of the pilot project together with a transparent timeline and proper planning is a must. This paper gives a first overview of the perception of FOs.”

Remember that this is just a pilot, this isn’t what’s generally happening in the whole Office.

Here’s the full publication:

Zentraler Personalausschuss
Central Staff Committee
Le Comité Central du Personnel

Munich, 19.03.2021
sc21037cp 0.2.1/1.2.1

Centralisation of the Receiving Office (RO) and PCT Chapter II demands
Perceptions of colleagues in the pilot project

In November 2020 a pilot project to centralize the Receiving Office (RO) and PCT Chapter II (for Forms PCT/IPEA/401) was launched.

Before 2018, RO and the PCT Chapter II demands were centralized in The Hague. Many Formalities Officers (FO) working on these procedures considered this to be beneficial for their work. They predicted that there would be a possible loss in quality if the procedures were to be distributed among a large group of (partly newly trained) colleagues in all directorates and all places of employment.

Senior management ignored these warnings and changed the set-up in 2018 so that procedures were indeed decentralized. However, the negative impact on quality was soon observed, resulting in numerous WIPO complaints. One of the objectives of the centralisation pilot project has been to restore quality in the PCT procedures.

Your Staff Representation has now conducted a first survey amongst the participants of this pilot to find out how they assess the new framework under test and to see in particular its impact on quality.

At present, the pilot project includes participants in Munich and The Hague who dedicate from 20% up to 100% of their working time to centralisation. We received feedback from both Team Managers and FOs.

Setup of pilot/enrolment
At the start of the pilot project, the first colleagues who applied described a cumbersome enrolment process, with last-minute changes and with candidates being put on hold. It was perceived as disorganised, with candidates being asked to take ad hoc decisions.

Knowledge consolidation
Working in a pool with experienced colleagues is seen as very beneficial, allowing harmonisation. The exchange of feedback and knowledge, team cooperation and shared


experiences are valued positively. Less experienced participants see the need for additional training and for regular exchange with the experts.

Job satisfaction
Participating in the pilot project contributes positively to job satisfaction. In general, colleagues are able to combine well their pilot work with their work in the directorate and they enjoy the diversification of tasks. The possibility to deepen their procedural knowledge within the pilot is also appreciated.

Colleagues working mostly 100% in the pilot report a major improvement of their wellbeing at work. They feel more comfortable and appreciated in a structure where they can focus on their procedure of expertise.

For these colleagues, the demand for diversification in the FO teams gave a feeling of loss of confidence at work and they would rather not go back to this structure.

Some colleagues report struggling to balance their work between the pilot project and the directorate.

Work distribution
Prior to the pilot project, many FOs were working on RO and PCT Chapter II procedures in the directorates but the number of incoming files varied greatly per FO team. Participants to the pilot report that work distribution was inefficient and created stress among staff, which had a negative impact on quality and wellbeing.

Some colleagues were overloaded with work while others did not have enough files to build and keep up knowledge. In the pilot project, work distribution is better balanced with a reduced team of FOs dedicated to only one procedure. Within a centralized structure, balancing for leave and absences is also easier than in small FO teams with multiple procedures to cover.

Quality
The feedback received is promising. The latest quality circle reveals a clear improvement in quality for these procedures. The contact people from WIPO also found it favourable to interact with a smaller team of well-trained interlocutors from the EPO.

Recommendations from participants
Despite the overall positive feedback, there are still some open points and room for improvement as identified by the colleagues.These concerns have already been shared with the pilot team managers:

• Reporting criteria for colleagues working for two teams needs to be clarified. No disadvantage should arise from the new way of working.
• In view of the positive aspects of a centralized structure, some participants were wondering whether a mutual sector mailbox could also be created for the Receiving Section. Recognition of the role of experts should be re-considered (as was the case


before with the LPS). FOs appreciate and value the support provided by (senior)
experts.
• Collaboration and harmonization between sectors/clusters need to be fostered. For the time being, the atmosphere is still described as competitive.
• Transparency is a must for such a pilot project. Participants are unsure about the next steps. The project has been extended until further notice. Early communication whether the project will move to a steady state is requested. A constant switch between centralisation and decentralisation of procedures should be avoided in future.

Conclusion
In recent years the work of FOs has been subject to numerous changes, in the teams structure as well as in the workflow and tools. The 2018 reorganisation, which de-centralised tasks into small teams, demanded that FOs diversify in several procedures. This structure created an artificial situation of understaffing in many FO teams. Many colleagues suffered from demotivation and reported higher stress levels. The current pilot project on centralisation of international phase procedures is an initiative that can improve this situation.

Feedback so far received is very promising. A proper evaluation of the outcome of the pilot project together with a transparent timeline and proper planning is a must.

As to creating a proper framework for FOs in general, it is important that management finds a long-term strategy and acknowledges that the expertise and work of FOs contributes as much to the quality of the end-product as does the work of examiners.

A reliable structure for knowledge transfer and succession planning for procedure experts will ensure that quality is maintained and it might offer new career prospects to FOs.

The Central Staff Committee

Useful links about the vacancies:
• http://my.internal.epo.org/portal/private/epo/work/jobmarket/?WCM_GLOBAL_CONTEXT=/epo/intranet/work/jobmarket/vacant_positions/2020/1594312877350_formalities_officers_in_ocfd_the_hague_or_munich_
• https://epotv.internal.epo.org/portal/recording/0394aad4-d9b8-4e00-95eb-facad59a9c7f

For the time being it remains to be seen what will happen with this pilot. We already saw some highly notorious pilots that reduced patent quality.

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