Bonum Certa Men Certa

Raw: “Experienced Examiners Can Examine Anything.” (Even Not in Their Field!)

Guarantee for decline in patent quality and decrease in the number of filings (now a reality at EPO), causing "over-capacity" all across the board and putting the EPO as a whole at risk

EPO over-capacity



Summary: An internal document shows how the EPO handles imbalance in filings, in essence shifting examiners to fields they are not familiar with

The Office’s solution to over-capacity and how to do better.



Summary: Despite official figures showing an overall increase in filings, some technical fields see the number of patent application decrease. As a solution to the over-capacity, managers are encouraging volunteers to leave their field and work as examiners in other, widely remote areas of technology. If not correctly handled, this could lead to serious problems not only for the individuals concerned but also for the Office.

Background

The overall number of applications increases but the clusters biotechnology and PAOC are suffering from a shortage of filings. In management terms, this is called over-capacity. Both clusters have been informed that two examiners per directorate will have to move to other technical fields such as polymers or mechanics. The official mantra: “experienced examiners can examine anything.”

Insufficient support and personal consequences

“Incentives” or “rewards” have not even been mentioned. Examiners who would consider a transfer are merely told that their new PD will probably provide the necessary support in terms of training and learning curve. The Office unfortunately has a track record of not providing sufficient support to staff transferred to new jobs. As a consequence it is likely that at least initially neither their quality nor the quantity of the newly transferred examiners will be at the level reached in their previous field, with the obvious consequences of less favourable staff reports and a prospect for promotion that will be close to zero.

Quality and the consequences for the Office

The Office introduced the AoCs alleging that increased specialization would result in increased quality. More recently the Office launched advertisement campaigns for the recruitment of examiners claiming that only the best candidates would be recruited. Transferring examiners with little or no relevant expertise into a given technical field makes a mockery of such claims. With its PCT share suffering and its quality under attack, the Office can hardly afford taking any further risks to its reputation.

Can we do better?

The better options available seem to be two-fold, namely: a) providing proper support and training for the examiners concerned, and b) providing alternatives to transfers.

a) The Office should allow examiners transferred to technical fields that are remote from their original field to follow external courses (university or other). Alternatively or additionally, sufficient time for self-study should be allowed, as well as a guarantee that the change will not have a negative impact on the examiner’s staff report for a period of e.g. 3 years. Ideally a positive impact, e.g. through a mark-up for “attitude” could be considered.

b) The Office should limit the loss of expertise by encouraging other options for reducing the available capacity through unpaid leave, parental leave or (temporary) transfer to other DGs (with a guarantee to return to the original position), internships (e.g. exchange with the patent profession) and/or voluntarily reduced working time. In the context of the latte, we remind the administration of a long-standing and cost-neutral claim of the staff representation to allow staff working part-time to top-up the missing pension contributions themselves so that no loss of pension ensues. Favourable offers for early retirement (e.g. along the lines of those offered to a former VP4) could also be considered.

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