Bonum Certa Men Certa

Comments on the European Patent Office's Strategic Plan to Survive Another 5 Years

Strategic Plan SP2028

Summary: European Patent Office (EPO) staff representatives have a lot to say about the EPO's document-wielding managers, who have managed to destroy not only the EPO's reputation but also the quality of staffing, legitimacy of patents etc. (all that in pursuit of short-term monetary gains)

The Central Staff Committee (CSC) of the EPO wrote to António Campinos exactly one week ago. It commented on the "Hey Hi" (AI) hype and many other plans of the EPO's management. When the notorious hype wave isn't (mis)used to promote European software patents (the buzzwords du jour keep changing all the time) it's used to promote understaffing or layoffs (putting more work pressure/burden on remaining examiners, forcing them to grant in a rush, sometimes due to inability to find prior art under unreasonable time constraints).

"It commented on the "Hey Hi" (AI) hype and many other plans of the EPO's management."Rather than comment on what the CSC has to say (we might do a video about this separately), let's quote what the CSC told colleagues:

The CSC has been invited to share its view in the public consultation on the EPO’s Strategic Plan 2028.

A new strategic plan is an opportunity to pave the way towards a better future for the Office, where staff is treated as its main asset and is motivated to support and ideally identifies itself again with the mission and objectives of the Office.

As the statutory social partner representing EPO staff, we have shared our views with the Office, in this open letter to the President of the Office.

Here is the content of the document in (X)HTML/plain text/GemText (depending on the medium used to read this post):

European Patent Office | 80298 Munich | Germany Reference: sc23055cl Date: 15/05/2023

Mr António Campinos President of the EPO By email


Consultation on the EPO’s Strategic Plan 2028 – CSC contribution

Dear Mr President,

The CSC has been invited to share its view in the public consultation on the EPO’s Strategic Plan 2028.

A new strategic plan is an opportunity to pave the way towards a better future for the Office, where staff is treated as its main asset and is motivated to support and ideally identifies itself again with the mission and objectives of the Office.

As the statutory social partner representing EPO staff, we would like to share our views with you in the appended annex. We have also used the consultation form available online for the convenience of your services.

We are looking forward to your careful analysis and remain at your disposal for an exchange before you submit the final document to the December Administrative Council session.

Yours sincerely,

Alain Dumont Chairman of the Central Staff Committee

Annex: Contribution of the CSC to SP2028

Contribution of the CSC to SP2028

D1 - People

As a long-term priority, the EPO must ensure that its employment policies go hand in hand with social progress, thus making sure that digitisation provides tangible and shared benefits to employees, among others: higher work flexibility, better work/life balance, enhancement and support of equality of opportunities and treatment, better work organisation, as well as the creation and preservation of meaningful jobs.

As a knowledge based organisation, staff should not be viewed as a financial liability, but rather as its main asset. Hence, recruitment is an important investment in the future of the organisation and crucial to ensure that the EPO can attract the best talent. However, there is no point in recruiting the best people without a solid investment in their training and development to ensure their long-term success and motivation within the EPO. Only this will allow the EPO, not only to remain competitive in the work market, but also to fulfil its social responsibility.

The replacement ratio, which is currently too low in all areas of the Office in view of the ageing population, can lead to a lack of diversity and a loss of knowledge within the organisation. It is important to ensure that the EPO attracts a diverse range of candidates, and that the EPO invests in training and development to keep up with the latest tools and technologies.

While secondments and young professional programs can, in specific cases and areas, be beneficial for the organisation, it is also important to invest in recruiting regular permanent staff who can bring long-term stability and knowledge to the EPO. The same applies to the outsourcing of tasks, which must be done responsibly to ensure that it does not lead to a loss of knowledge or control over important processes. It is furthermore reminded, that early trends in 2010 to shift essential examination steps to examiners of national patent offices already raises the question as to whether such patents would be legally tenable and that, by acceding to the European Patent Convention, the contracting states ceded sovereign rights to the Organisation, and only to it, and granted it far-reaching immunity for its official activities. Therefore, each of them may also expect that all essential procedural steps of patent examination will be carried out by the EPO.

The EPO will need to compare with other organisations/companies to see whether we find the best talents. For sustainability reasons, staff should either be employed on a permanent basis directly, or at least be converted earlier. This would provide stability, avoid the loss of training investments in new talents and reduce the costs associated with high turnover rates.

The health of EPO staff must remain a priority. The EPO should aim at further preventing and mitigating occupational health and safety risks, also those psychosocial risks associated

with the new ways of working, including for example risks derived from social isolation or from the continuous use of computers and digital technology.

Special attention should be paid to adequate training, support and work adaptations to older employees, in the framework of an ageing policy, should be a priority for maintaining the work capacity in a tight work market defined by declining demographics.

The EPO should engage in a genuinely constructive and open dialogue with all social partners with the aim of identifying work-related needs of staff while encompassing positive evolutions of the working conditions in the European society.

The possibility to telework within the “New Ways of Working” scheme has given employees more flexibility and contributed to their work-life balance. This flexibility can lead to higher job satisfaction and lower rates of early retirement. Another aspect to reduce the number of early retirements would be to grant requests for working part-time, especially to colleagues who have reached the age of 55. These colleagues would then be able to contribute with their experience to a valuable knowledge transfer for the benefit of the Organisation.

D2 - Homes

One important issue is how to create a sense of belonging for newcomers while maintaining it for current employees. Here we see some opportunities we could make use of as an organisation within the scope of this initiative. We should continue funding AMICALE events and get-togethers. Decorating "Offices for a day" could be an effective way to make staff feel better when they book an office at a low cost for the EPO. We could also build nice, decorated areas around the coffee corners.

Creating and improving the sense of belonging have a positive impact on staff, such as improving well-being, leading to fewer sick leave, better functioning teams, units, and divisions, and staff being more willing to go the extra mile.

It has been communicated, both internally and to the Administrative Council, that every employee who comes at least three days per week to the EPO premises will have the right to a single dedicated office. However, this promise is currently not being fulfilled, and “Bringing Teams Together” (BTT) seems to result in the creation of two different classes of colleagues: those with designated offices/workplaces and those without. Even those who fulfil the conditions don't get a dedicated place, and some of the ones who have it don't use it. Allocation of offices is malfunctioning and creates issues among colleagues.

Regarding the exploration of how to use unused space, we expect that this will be in favour of staff, the most valuable asset of the EPO. Renting spaces should not come at the cost of less office space for colleagues who choose the office as the preferred option to work, nor at the cost of AMICALE facilities.

Shifting the workplace from physical to virtual spaces can offer more flexibility to our colleagues, which is widely appreciated. However, this shift is sometimes perceived as compulsory. The physical conditions for employees have deteriorated, with fewer meetings in person, no dedicated offices, fewer canteens, and fewer AMICALE physical events. We are worried about the risk of digital isolation. The move to digital communities in our external stakeholder relationships might negatively affect the power of these networks and the long- term relationships established with professional and national offices partners who are now meeting more and more physically after the end of the pandemic.

D3 - Technologies

SP2028 focuses on digital transformation and its impact on the Patent Granting Process (PGP). However, there are signs that the emphasis on throughput and efficiency may come at the expense of quality. While digital transformation can bring many benefits, it is essential to ensure that the quality of patents granted and EPO internal databases is not compromised. From the social perspective, the EPO must ensure that digitalisation provides tangible and shared benefits to employees, including better work organisation and the creation and preservation of meaningful jobs.

The European Patent Convention (EPC) must be strictly followed and changes in the way that divisions interact with applicants may have legal implications which may require changes to the EPC. In such a case, a Conference of Ministers should be considered to ensure that any changes are made in a transparent and agreed manner and that the interests of all stakeholders are taken into account. Additionally, the current fee structure may need to be changed to align with the new technology-driven PGP process.

The EPO should explicitly aim at a human-controlled digitalisation, including Artificial Intelligence (AI). Integration of AI in the EPO processes should only take place in consultation with staff and their representatives, in order to prevent risks to staff and to their fundamental rights associated with its potential misuse. Furthermore, all staff of the EPO should be offered adequate and sufficient training in the use of the modern technologies, with special focus on AI and information security.

Transitional measures for older staff closer to retirement should be envisaged (e.g. the possibility for them to keep on working with paper files).

As the EPO moves towards embedding its processes in technology, there is an increased risk of security threats. It is critical to ensure that appropriate security measures are in place to safeguard sensitive information and maintain the integrity of the systems. A complete audit of all internal EPO processes from the perspective of the information security should be urgently tasked to independent partners. The results should be supplemented with the introduction of regular upgrades leading to the identification, prevention and mitigation of new threats.

Moreover, there are concerns about the transition phase, particularly regarding the increased workload for examiners while recruiting is reduced, and the tools are not yet ready to deliver the expected results.

On the positive side, the move towards a paperless process is a welcome development. Structured data entry into the PGP process may potentially help to deliver high quality grants, which will help to improve the quality of future incoming patent applications. However, it is crucial to ensure that the tools are ready and fully functional to achieve these objectives and provide the flexibility required in the procedures. For this purpose, the whole digital workflow and tools should be regularly audited from the functional and ergonomic point of view, both before release and during the production cycle.

The New Ways of Working (NWoW) with the paperless workflow and teleworking introduced during SP2023 brought about that examiners and formalities officers use and must use software tools in an unprecedented frequency and intensity, be it in a stand-alone manner or in collaboration with others.

The staff representation considers ergonomics & useability pre-conditions for sustainability and a necessity to make SP2028 a success, as they are essential to safeguard health and well-being when working digitally, in the EPO premises, at home and elsewhere. This requires an intense involvement of the COHSEC as the competent statutory body from the onset and the active support by BIT.

Given the potential risks associated with digital transformation, it is essential to have a robust plan B in place in case the tools are not ready in time. Failing this, production pressure in the core business area would be excessive and the quality of the patents granted could be compromised.

For the definition of new types of jobs, future work capacity needs as well as future process changes derived from the digitisation, the EPO should engage in a direct, open and constructive dialogue with the social partners.

In conclusion, the SP2028 must balance the benefits of digital transformation with the need to maintain quality, ensure compliance with the EPC, and prioritise security. The transition phase must be carefully managed to avoid overburdening examiners and other staff and ensure that the tools are fully functional before being deployed. Automation gains shall not be capitalised before they are delivered. while their benefits should be shared with staff, in terms of better working conditions. Finally, a robust contingency plan must be in place to ensure business continuity in case of unforeseen events.

While the measures to be implemented should be regularly identified in close cooperation with the social partners, we can already identify and propose some urgent concrete exemplary steps: - Find a replacement for the “screen coach” (which was promised long time ago) - Convert the filing process to a real digital filing system. Scanning of documents should no longer be necessary. A tool like eDrex is not state of the art and should not be necessary. If any text editor can be used when the filings are in a text format, then this could lead to changes in the fee structure because the filing is no longer page oriented. - A digital filing tool should be able to generate warnings regarding typical errors like “spirit of the invention” or “incorporated by reference” or claim-like clauses. - Do not switch off tools that are still working properly.

D4 - High-quality products and services

The EPO should start by defining what "quality" means for the EPO, its stakeholders and the public, and determine which definitions are relevant and necessary. Establishing methods to measure these different concepts of quality is also crucial.

The EPO's commitment to "enhanc[ing] our dialogue with users, listen[ing] to their views and respond[ing] to their needs" is commendable. However, the decision to stop consulting with users (such as IMPACT, PATCOM, and SACEPO) is inconsistent with this commitment.

Representatives of the industry have consistently expressed their interest that the EPO’s quality be maintained or even improved, so that legal certainty is created, and litigation is minimised, which saves substantial risks as well as costs for stakeholders and society at large.

In SP2028, the driver 4 introduces the concept of “simultaneous working” for rapid interactions, which is presented as potentially offering gains in efficiency and time. It must be clarified at which steps in the patent granting process this new kind of interactions with the users is envisaged, what its legal status will be and whether it is compatible with the requirements of the EPC, in order to avoid opening new paths of litigation.

In the view of the representatives of the industry, the patent quality mainly depends on the time that examiners can invest on each patent application, which should not be artificially reduced. Unfortunately, experience shows that the introduction of new software tools has been accompanied by expectations far beyond the actual efficiency gains that such tools can deliver, which has had damaging effects on quality.

The success of the EPO's goals for SP2028, including the delivery of a transparent Patent Granting Process powered by digital tools and the best talents, is heavily dependent on the availability of these tools. What could happen when the talented staff which will be in charge of providing the services with these tools will be less and less (reduction on recruitment rates)? What is the plan B in case these tools are not in time available to support the Patent Granting Process?

The EPO should also prioritise analysing the lessons learned from SP2023, consolidating the areas of improvement and addressing any remaining issues, particularly in the area of quality.

D5 - Partnerships and Networks for quality, impact and knowledge

The main declared mission of the EPO is to support innovation, competitiveness and economic growth across Europe. Therefore, focusing mainly on cooperation with SMEs and national offices outside the EPC member states would go against its own mission, unless the activities within this new focus would support the EPO’s mission.

The resources (staff and money) are limited, therefore, if they are invested mainly on activities outside of Europe, the Office runs the risk to neglect its core activities in Europe.

It would potentially also have a negative impact on the EPO's established relationships with the main industries and the member states. Neglecting these longstanding partnerships could lead to a loss of trust and a perception that the EPO is shifting away from its mission to address new activities which are honourable but outside the scope of the EPOs mission.

The EPO can only deliver high-quality patent services if it continues to assess the needs of all its stakeholders. For this reason, the regular exchange with established networks of experts and stakeholders that have been reliable partners to the EPO for the past 50 years is of key importance. Disregarding their expertise and contributions could harm the EPO's reputation.

Therefore, it is important for the EPO to balance its efforts to engage with SMEs and national offices outside the EPC member states with its existing relationships with the main industries and national member states, according to its mission. The EPO should continue to leverage the expertise and contributions of its established networks while seeking new partnerships and collaborations to further enhance its patent services.

The establishment of the Observatory is a positive signal. However, we see the risk of an overlap with tasks and activities, which are already carried out in other EPO divisions, such as PD 54 Patent Intelligence. It should be avoided to blur responsibilities and activities.

Notice the part about needing to comply with the EPC -- something that the EPO hasn't done for over a decade. To make matters worse, the EPO is now taking aim at patent courts, seeking to replace them with an illegal, unconstitutional kangaroo court, in direct violation of international conventions.

Recent Techrights' Posts

'Confidential Computing'? More Like a Giant Back Door.
CacheWarp AMD CPU Attack Grants Root Access in Linux VMs
Cybercrimes and Online Abuse From Extremists and Militants on a VPN/Tor
A straitjacket or lobotomy won't solve this issue
Links 02/12/2023: Pfizer Sued for Lies About Efficacy, Censorship of Scientific Dissent, More Pfizer Layoffs
Links for the day
Selling Free Software
by Richard Stallman
IRC Proceedings: Saturday, December 02, 2023
IRC logs for Saturday, December 02, 2023
Links 03/12/2023: CRISPR as Patented Minefield, Lots of Greenwashing Abound
Links for the day
Over at Tux Machines...
GNU/Linux news
Professor Eben Moglen: In 1991 Richard Stallman Thought GNU/Linux Was Doomed Due to Software Patents
Back when Linus Torvalds was about to release Linux Prof. Moglen and Dr. Stallman had already spent years developing GNU and refining its licence, the GPL, which Linux would later adopt
Montana’s TikTok Ban Was to Protect Free Speech and the United States' First Amendment
TikTok does not embrace Free speech
GNU/Linux Surges to Almost 4% Worldwide on Desktops/Laptops, 2% in Latest Steam Survey (Ubuntu Not the Top Distro)
We've fortunately bet on a winning platform
Links 02/12/2023: ChatGPT Drowns in Bad Press, Censorship Worldwide Increases Some More
Links for the day
[Meme] Screenshots of Web Pages (Relevant to One's Article) Are Not Copyright Infringing Anywhere in the World
bullying and hate crimes
IRC Proceedings: Friday, December 01, 2023
IRC logs for Friday, December 01, 2023
A Year of Doing Techrights 'Full Time'
been a year!
Microsoft and Its Boosters Worsen Linux Security
The circus goes on and on
Links 01/12/2023: Facebook Infested With Malicious Campaigns by Imposters, ACLU Gives Advice on Doxxing and Online Harassment
Links for the day
Just Like Its Budget Allocation, the Linux Foundation Devotes About 3% Of Its Latest Newsletter to Linux, Devotes More to Linux's Rivals
It's just exploiting the brand
Links 01/12/2023: Google Invokes Antitrust Against Microsoft
Links for the day
Over at Tux Machines...
GNU/Linux news
UK Government Allowing Microsoft to Take Over Activision Blizzard Will Destroy Jobs
Over 30,000 fired this year? More?
It's Cheaper to Pay Bribes (and Produce Press Releases) Than to Pay Fines (After Lots of Negative Publicity)
Does the UK still have real sovereignty or do corporations from overseas purchase decisions and outcomes?
November 2023 Over With GNU/Linux at All-Time Highs According to statCounter
ChromeOS+GNU/Linux combined are about 7% of the "market"
New Report Provides Numerical Evidence That Google Hired Too Many People From Microsoft (and Became Malicious, Evil, Sociopathic)
"Some 12,018 former Microsoft employees currently work for the search and data giant"
Google: Keep Out, Don't Save Your Files, and Also Let Us Spy on Everything You Do
Do you still trust "clown" storage?
IRC Proceedings: Thursday, November 30, 2023
IRC logs for Thursday, November 30, 2023
Links 01/12/2023: Many Suppressions in Hong Kong and Attempts to Legitimise Illegal and Unconstitutional Fake Patent 'Court' in EU (UPC)
Links for the day