Bonum Certa Men Certa

The Duke Law Patent Quality Conference and the Planned Erosion of Patent Quality at the EPO, for the Sake of So-called 'Production'

Factory mentality, as opposed to research mentality, inevitably takes its toll

Inside factory

Summary: Stocks are being depleted by superficial work (searches or examination) at the EPO, whereas belatedly, inside the USPTO, the problems associated with shoddy work or lenient examination are being realised, and ramifications noted even by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO)

"As we have discussed," Patently-O wrote earlier today about the Duke Law Patent Quality Conference (regarding the USPTO), "the two of us are following closely the USPTO’s efforts to address issues of patent quality through its Enhanced Patent Quality Initiative (EPQI) – an urgent but also enduring challenge that one of our nation’s first patent examiners, Thomas Jefferson, struggled with. Our institutions, the Duke Law Center for Innovation Policy and the Santa Clara High Tech Law Institute, are also co-sponsoring two conferences on EPQI and other levers for improving patent quality.

As readers may recall, during the summer we mentioned the GAO report and its relevance to the EPO. The US patent system seems to be improving patent quality, whereas Battistelli goes in the opposite direction (maybe registration/filing alone given the current trajectory), so he definitely needs to attend the above conference. He might actually learn something, though we doubt he can ever acknowledge any mistakes of his. An article titled "Fixing why USPTO issues low-quality patents should be oversight hearing's focus" has already just been published by The Hill. Notice the theme. The public debate/discourse sure is evolving.

Looking at the situation inside the EPO, there isn't even an acknowledgement of the problem (at the management/executive level). Patent examiners, however, see the writings on the wall. Some of them wrote about "Patent rain, brain drain and quality bust at the EPO," calling "Overcapacity and insecurity" an "HR tool" (controlling staff by workload and fear). To quote some bits from these insiders at the EPO:

1. Toward overcapacity, full steam ahead!

According to the EPO workload manager, on the 23.05 the EPO Search Backlog was 4000, on the 30.05 3500.... This trend is picking up as can clearly be seen on the rolling 12M stock curves taking a dive: the spread between applications and searches is increasing monthly since 2014, with an average between 25k and 30k monthly of excess searches. This “scissors effect” will soon lead to the end of the Search stock: presently, it is estimated to a little less than four months of stock!

The situation in Examination may seem less dramatic at this stage, but an inflection point has taken place (see evolution of the EPO examination workload) since January 2016 as staff have started to shift their attention to examination in certain areas due to the lack of search files. When the search stock will be depleted office-wide, the trend will accelerate as capacity will shift to examination. This is coherent with the “Early Certainty1” policy which clear and open objective is to tackle the backlog in examination.

At the present rate2, it is estimated that compared to previous years, the total product stock will melt at a 50k rhythm per year, corresponding in the middle run to a substantial amount of overcapacity in the workforce

_____ 1 The dedicated site FAQ attempts to be reassuring on this issue: “What happens with „supernumerary“ examiners once the backlog is cleared? Will young examiners be recruited on 5-year contracts? [...] there are for the moment no plans to recruit examiners on contract and if this discussion would ever come up, it would certainly not be due to Early Certainty”

2 According to the data, the output/input balance was 9500 searches and 3100 examinations in the first quarter.

Put in very simple terms, EPO staff foresees a situation wherein all the skilled (and well-paid) staff will be pressured to go or be laid off, ensuring that patent quality at the EPO declines even further. We are going to elaborate on this another day, as there are some more urgent matters to tackle tonight and some important news regarding patent scope (software patents) from the US.

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