Bonum Certa Men Certa

Freeloading Patent Monopolies in Europe (Typically Granted to Non-European Corporations) While the 'EPO Mafia' is "Frontloading"

posted by Roy Schestowitz on Feb 19, 2024

And lowering quality of examination, because "the Office continues to focus on diversity and inclusion": (in the words of António Campinos)

Underlying this approach is a firm commitment to replacing 80% of the examiners leaving the EPO over a three-year rolling period, frontloading a

THE EPO's Central Staff Committee (CSC) wrote to staff some days ago, highlighting the ongoing worries about capacity and quality of work (or its lack of adherence to standards codified in law).

Here's the communication to members of staff:

Dear Colleagues,

In November last year, the Central Staff Committee (CSC) wrote to the President to address the issue of staff being discouraged or disallowed from taking parental leave, family leave, or part-time, with part-timers being requested to return to full-time, all in order to increase capacity.

We highlighted that the current policies of the administration, to reduce staff numbers via low levels of recruitment, is at odds with these desperate measures to increase capacity on an individual basis. Furthermore, we detailed that this approach has a negative impact on the work-life balance of the current staff and damages measures that have provided improved inclusion of various groups of staff.

In one of the last days before the break, the President replied to our letter. Unfortunately, we were disappointed by the content of the reply. The letter provides no answer about the denials for part-time work and leave. It also shows a lack of consideration for the staff who have been affected and their personal situations.

Some of the statements made are considered and addressed in this paper.

We ask the administration to again reconsider the stress and strains put on colleagues when denying them the exact measures that were put in place to allow their continued and valuable contribution to the goals of the Office.

Sincerely yours,

The Central Staff Committee - CSC

Here's the letter from Campinos, dated a week before Christmas:

European Patent Office
80298 Munich
Germany

Office address
Bob-van-Benthem-Platz 1
80469 Munich
Germany

epo.org

The President

Tel. +49 (0)89 2399 - 1000
president@epo.org

Date: 18.12.2023

European Patent Office | 80298 MUNICH | GERMANY
Mr Derek Kelly
Chair of the Central Staff Committee

Via Email only: centralSTCOM@epo.org

Your letter dated 10 November 2023

Dear Chair,

Reference is made to your letter of 10 November concerning the increase in capacity for 2024. While we have had the chance to discuss this extensively on a number of occasions, let me reiterate a few important elements.

Firstly, the Office is committed to offering its staff the best possible working conditions, enabling them to strike a balance between their professional and personal life. The importance that the Office places on colleagues’ well-being is reflected in its generous social security package and the variety of flexibility measures that it has introduced, most recently as part of the New Ways of Working (NWoW) scheme – one of the most advanced teleworking schemes amongst all International Organisations – and the amendments to the parental leave regulations.

Turning to recruitment, recruitment rates are specially tailored to meet the needs of all units across the Office, including both examiner and corporate teams. Our talent pipelines enable swift access to a wide range of candidates with the potential to take on roles across the Office, helping to ensure that the Office is well-prepared to respond to the changing technological and IP landscapes.

In total, 126 new staff members joined the EPO in 2023 with a special focus on examiner recruitment in technical fields with a high workload (100 new examiners at a 123% replacement rate). For 2024, 62 job offers for examiners have already been accepted to date. As ever, recruitment is directly determined by the business needs of the respective units, while also taking account of the efficiency gains brought about by digitalisation. Underlying this approach is a firm commitment to replacing 80% of the examiners leaving the EPO over a three-year rolling period, frontloading a large proportion (120%) of these in 2024. Additionally, the Office deeply values the depth and breadth of internal talent and attaches great importance to the upskilling of our current employees, as well as to mobility, both full and partial.

Moreover, as the Office continues to focus on diversity and inclusion, Young Professionals drawn from a growing, pan-European network of universities contribute to advances in gender and generational parity. This investment in a new generation of talented graduates, from universities promoting IP education, ensures that the Office is well-equipped to meet future challenges and the results across the Office are already visible. It is worth mentioning that some of the Young Professionals have successfully participated in some of the Office’s recruitment campaigns and have been appointed as examiners or administrators.

Against this background, the Office does not share your view that the higher production targets will lead to burnout and excessive pressure on teams. On the contrary, with the above measures, the Office seeks to and succeeds in meeting its goals, while remaining an employer of choice and particularly competitive on the market.

All of this enables the Office to deliver its high-quality products and services, in a timely manner, and with the overarching aim of ensuring both the well- being of its employees and the Office’s long-term sustainability.

Yours sincerely,

António Campinos

Notice how he speaks of "Young Professionals", who are unsuitably qualified as per the EPC. Perhaps the sole goal nowadays it to get rubber-stamping legions or a workforce with a lack of specialised knowledge, i.e. inadequately equipped to scrutinise patent applications.

Three days prior to the above letter the CSC issued the following 3-page publication:

Zentraler Personalausschuss
Central Staff Committee
Le Comité Central du Personnel

Munich, 15.02.2024
sc24012cp

Capacity push for 2024
More work for less staff

In November last year, the CSC wrote1 to the President to address the issue of staff being discouraged or disallowed from taking parental leave, family leave, or part-time, with part- timers being requested to return to full-time, all in order to increase capacity. We highlighted that the current policies of the administration, to reduce staff numbers via low levels of recruitment, is at odds with these desperate measures to increase capacity on an individual basis. Furthermore, we detailed that this approach has a negative impact on the work-life balance of the current staff and damages measures that have provided improved inclusion of various groups of staff.

In one of the last days before the break, the President replied2 to our letter. Unfortunately, we were disappointed by the content of the reply. The letter provides no answer about the denials for part-time work and leave. It also shows a lack of consideration for the staff who have been affected and their personal situations. Some of the statements made are considered and addressed here.

“The importance that the Office places on colleagues’ well-being is reflected in its generous social security package and the variety of flexibility measures that it has introduced”

The simplified view, that one form of flexibility can be used to replace another, is not shared by the staff representation. Colleagues who may rely on part-time work to be able to manage their unpaid caring, or other responsibilities alongside their careers cannot be expected to work full-time or forgo various forms of leave because they can now work abroad, or at home, or during the night. Putting such expectations on staff can be considered as requesting them to endanger their health and well-being for the benefit of the Office. The letter goes on to state that;

“recruitment rates are specially tailored to meet the needs of all units across the Office, including both examiner and corporate teams”

If this were indeed the case, there would be no need to put pressure on the current staff to increase their individual capacity. Frustratingly, the letter is completely silent on the issue raised relating to leave and part-time approvals. We were expecting some tangible response to the main questions – what is the stance of the administration on the reports from staff that they are experiencing recent pressure to increase their working hours through the means explained above? Was this approach being taken by line-managers and directors initiated or endorsed by the administration? We will continue striving for clarity on this issue.

_____________

1 “Increase in capacity for 2024”, CSC letter (sc23133cl), 10.11.2023

2 Reply of the President (re24011cl), 18.12.2023


The President also attempts to justify the low recruitment rates by reference to the

“efficiency gains brought about by digitalisation”

We have asked time and time again for some quantitative analysis of these efficiency gains. Yet we are still completely empty handed. Merely repeating the mantra is not enough to justify the massive annual hikes in productivity targets. Staff members were shocked to see that the Financial Study3 plans for an expected productivity increase of 2.1% annually for 20 years, yet this year we faced an even higher increase in targets (2023: 378,628, 2024: 403,453, representing a 7% increase in Office-wide production target, with practically the same number of examiners planned). We again ask for some substantiation of where these efficiency gains have been achieved, which tasks are involved, and the magnitude of the time savings. On examiner replacement, the letter confirms

“a firm commitment to replacing 80% of the examiners leaving the EPO”

A sustained period of reduction of examiners4 has been the reality since 2018 and is planned to continue throughout the entire mandate of the current administration. Already, we have 6% fewer examiners than in 2018, and expect to have 11% fewer in 2028, and this is with an expected increase in incoming files of 22% in those 10 years. In other areas of the Office, the reductions are even more severe. We wonder how a new administration will view these decisions? Will we see another extreme in the stop-start approach to recruitment under successive administrations? The instability in the level of recruitment over the years has shown to create significant issues. For example, the age demographics of the Office reveal that we now have a population with over one quarter with ages 55+, doubling from one eighth in 2012.

As a remedy for the low recruitment, the letter refers to the plan of “frontloading a large proportion (120%) of these [examiners] in 2024.” Whether the “frontloading” of 2024 amounts to 130% as quoted in the draft budget5, 120% as quoted in the letter, or the updated 90% (112/124) as defined in the orientation on recruitment6, it cannot be considered as anything other than a fig leaf. “Frontloading” means nothing more than defining the recruitment rate of 80% as an average over a three-year period, rather than over a one-year period. Hence, this measure has a negligible impact on the significant difficulties expected in terms of knowledge transfer, succession planning, and training capacity, due to the impending wave of retirements.

On Young Professionals, the following is noted;

“as the Office continues to focus on diversity and inclusion, Young Professionals … contribute to advances in gender and generational parity”

We believe it is rather cynical to suggest that gender parity has been advanced by recruiting

_____________

3 CA/68/23

4 “Recruitment at the EPO: Past and planned workforce management”, Presentation made in the LSCTH General Assembly of 06.02.2024

5 CA/50/23

6 CA/100/23


a majority of women into the lowest paid positions in the Office (2000€/month). It may improve the surface statistics in terms of the ratio of male to female employees (currently 65%/35%7), but it increases the gender pay gap (difference in average pay between male and female employees), and increases the imbalance in gender for managerial/non- managerial roles. The same can be said of the advances in generational parity – adding over 100 colleagues in their early 20s will indeed reduce the average age of the Office, but it is a superficial measure since these colleagues are with the Office on a short-term basis, many of whom leave after one year of service.

The letter concludes by referring to

“the overarching aim of ensuring both the well-being of its employees and the Office’s long-term sustainability.”

We fear the balance between these two aims has been tipped significantly away from the well-being of staff, and highlight that pressuring staff to increase marginally their capacity has the potential to be counter-productive in terms of productivity. We therefore ask the administration to again reconsider the stress and strains put on colleagues when denying them the exact measures that were put in place to allow their continued and valuable contribution to the goals of the Office.

The Central Staff Committee

____

7 Social Report 2022

So now the full context is visible for everyone to see. Will politicians elected by the public lift a finger and bother doing anything on this matter? Not likely? Too much to ask for?

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