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The EPO’s ‘IT’ Systems Have Become a ClusterZuck, Based on EPO Insiders

Posted in Europe, Patents at 3:36 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

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When a patent office becomes all about nepotism and politics, at the expense of science and technology

Summary: The comical state of EPO “IT” is explained in a cynical communication entitled “The Joys of Technology”

THE EPO has long had “IT” issues. Benoît Battistelli already chucked literally hundreds of millions of euros down the bin with his utterly awful “IT” systems. It was so bad that António Campinos appointees had to bury the whole thing and earlier this year they illegally outsourced their systems to Microsoft. Even the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), which is American, did not go that far, except for document formats.

“The EPO rapidly loses control of its own systems!”Circulating among EPO staff at the moment is a document about the latest “epic fail” at the Office. Does the Office management ever care to understand Quality Control? No, to them (the ‘suits’), “Quality” just means speed; in other words, hurry up already!

The Central Staff Committee (CSC) asks: “Are you also participating in the weekly “noreply_bit Bingo”? Wondering how many of these frequent mass emails will be crying for your attention this week again? We feel sorry for our BIT colleagues who see themselves forced to make the impossible possible, scrambling to keep our services up and running. They deserve our support and understanding. At the same time, we suggest that everyone keeps a record of these many interruptions, as they inevitably impact on your production.”

We know how “production” gets measured; the management calls the grant of many software patents “production” and EPO examiners are compelled to play along (or get sacked for low “production”). Likewise, their “BIT” colleagues are made to work with unsuitable infrastructure, some of which has been outsourced to profoundly incompetent companies. The EPO rapidly loses control of its own systems! This should never be happening!

Anyway, reproduced below is the 2-page publication from the CSC


The Joys of Technology

Weekly noreply_bit Bingo

Dear Colleagues,

Are you also participating in the weekly “noreply_bit Bingo”? Wondering how many different incident / issue / release notice / software update / … you will be receiving this week again? Wondering how often you will ‘kindly’ be told to restart your computer, to wait for the VPN connection to be available again, to be ‘thanked for your understanding’ while some essential tools are offline or otherwise dreadfully slow?

Wondering which new tools, e-learning modules, PGP digital process update, intranet links, video messages, newsletters… will be crying for your attention this week?

The pattern is all too frequent and recurring and we feel sorry for our BIT colleagues who are tasked time and again to jump through hoops while scrambling to resume normal service. BIT staff make the impossible possible and they deserve our support and understanding.

Computer and connectivity problems are a fact of life. There is no avoiding the fact that technology will fail from time to time and that updates and restarts will be necessary – yet the staff of our ‘model international organisation’, ‘at the forefront of technology’ seem to have to endure more than their fair share of IT issues in these distributed times.

The Office proudly proclaims that it works for a “Minimum Viable Product” – yet seems to forget that staff then needs to do actual work with this “Minimum Viable Product” – a tool which often turns out to be overly cumbersome to work with, buggy or incomplete, and will have to undergo several updates before it can be called anywhere near a final, working product. Agile development may sound very cool – unfortunately it means the user will get a rough first draft to plod through. It compromises the quality of our data with numerous time-consuming changes and updates requiring retroactive corrections as the versions evolve. And with each such “agile minimum viable product” productivity gains are heralded as if it were the best thing since sliced bread.

The tools we get should be there to enable or help us to do our work – all too often they seem more likely to hold people back.

The BIT administration seems to have launched their staff into a sprint – but they forgot to check if their development teams were able to walk stably first. The weekly “noreply_bit Bingo” nicely illustrates this conundrum, and one can only wonder which hefty budgets are necessary to fuel these efforts.

There appears to be a fundamental mismatch between the goals given to BIT staff and the needs of the Office: BIT staff seem to have to provide new tools, releases, and updates at an unprecedented pace in more than 40 years of history of the Office. On the one hand this puts them under undue pressure: for instance they are not even able to maintain the habitual change freeze for the month of December.

On the other hand, the continuous issuing of new tools and releases – most of them turning out to be beta versions – ends up in slowing staff down in a continuous effort of adaptation and learning, rather than helping staff in achieving their challenging targets. This is not working smart.

Staff Representation, which has always advocated a smart way of working for EPO staff, calls on the administration to reconsider this ill-conceived and counter-productive policy of pushing BIT to issue new products and releases at a pace which is unnatural and unsustainable for staff in all DG’s and BIT alike.

Even if we all work in a bean-counting system where every tap on the keyboard is timed and monitored, and tallied up in a huge, big ranking excel sheet to decide who gets the box of chocolates at the end of the year, our ‘model international organisation’ has forgotten to include the result of the weekly “noreply_bit Bingo” in their bean-counting system. The time lost here is simply not accounted for. This, we can compensate for during evenings and weekends. Could this be the reason why core hours and flexitime are about to be chopped?

One thing we can be sure of: the weekly “noreply_bit Bingo” keeps our mailboxes full and gives ample evidence that our mail servers are quite capable of handling frequent mass emails.

In the meantime, make sure to keep a record of the time lost due to all of these outages, to the e-learning modules, due to scouting around the intranet trying to find the updated “How-To” guides. Keep track of each entry on your “noreply_bit Bingo” sheet. It may come in handy for the inevitable “gap analysis” during the appraisal cycle: we are not so sure yet how the new coveted “holistic approach” will cater for this.

The Central Staff Committee

Since they’re mentioned “gap analysis”, how can we forget the "gap"…?

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