EPO staff motivation levels hit all time low

As reported below, EPO staff recently registered their continued severe lack of trust in management, and extreme dissatisfaction with the EPO as an employer:

FT: Europas Patentprüfer meutern (13/06/08).

Heise: Unzufriedenheit im Europäischen Patentamt wächst (09/06/08).

Spiegel: Personalumfrage, Tausende Patentamt-Mitarbeiter sind genervt von Chefetage (07/06/08).

SUEPO Interviews

On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the EPO and in order to contribute to the debate on strategic renewal, SUEPO has decided to ask historical personalities in the EPO as well as leading personalities in Intellectual Property what they consider the strengths and weaknesses of the EPO to be, how they see the relation between the EPO and the EU and what they think of the EPN.

Interview mit Dr. Lothar Steiling (18/04/08)
   - English translation
   - Character profile
   - English translation of character profile

Interview mit Dr. Klaus Langfinger (13/03/08)
   - English translation
   - Character profile
   - English translation of character profile

Interview mit Prof. Dr. Joseph Straus (27/02/08)
   - English translation
   - Character profile
   - English translation of character profile

Interview with Francis Hagel (11/02/08)
   - Character profile

Interview mit Alfons Schäfers (10/01/08)
   - English translation
   - Character profile
   - English translation of character profile

Interview with Dominique Guellec (20/12/07)
   - Character profile
   - Recommended further reading:  See his latest book, "The economics of the European patent system" and further references in wikipedia.

Interview mit dem Münchner Innovationsforscher und Patentexperten Professor Dietmar Harhoff (6/12/07)
   - English translation
   - Character profile
   - Recommended further reading:  Stellungnahme des wissenschaftlichen Beirat beim Bundesministerium für Wirtschaft und Technology zum Thema "Patentschutz und Innovation".

Interview mit Dr. Ulrich Schatz, "The first lawyer of the EPO" (14/11/07)
   - English translation
   - Character profile

EPO president preaches doom and gloom

Alison Brimelow, the EPO president, is currently on a mission to paint a picture of financial and workload crisis at the EPO. Some recent interviews and comments in the press can be found as follows:

ITExaminer.com: Inventors upset over patent delays (19/06/08).

IPKat: Patents delayed, Alison Brimelow "worried" (19/06/08).

IAM: More mutual recognition talk as patent harmonisation efforts intensify (19/06/08).

BBC: Patent delays frustrate inventors (19/06/08).

TMPDF: EPO Future Workload Study; document CA 144/07 – Comments by TMPDF (05/08).

EPO Future Workload Studay, prepared by the Board 28 and endorsed by the Administrative Council in December 2007.

Mutual recognition raises its head as EPO boss says backlog won't be mastered (08/05/08).

Der Standard.at: Europäische Patentorganisation versinkt im Schuldensumpf (15/01/08).

AFP: Europäisches Patentamt warnt vor Bearbeitungsstau (12/01/08).

Heise: Europäisches Patentamt angeblich knapp bei Kasse (3/12/07).

IAM: EPO faces deficit crisis, Brimelow reveals (27/11/07).

Blog Blawg Austria: Ein effektives Patent-System und seine Kosten (27/11/07).

FT.com: The true cost of a system that is patently outmoded (23/11/07).

Strategic Renewal

On 3rd-5th October 2007, the management team of the EPO met en masse to discuss "Strategic Renewal". Since then, this has become the banner under which a change process is being pursued in order to re-analyse and redefine the European Patent System and the role of the EPO in the future. Further details can be found in the following:

SUEPO: Making EPO fit for the future (SUEPO solutions) or avoiding global warming (13/02/08).

IP::Jur: News From EPO Transforming Itself (EPO 2.0) (03/10/07).

SUEPO: Strategic renewal - Mis(s)Leading the EPO? (01/10/07).

IP::Jur: European Patent Network EPN - The Unknown Entity? (29/09/07).

It would appear that despite claims that nothing is pre-cooked, firm ideas already existed before any consultation as to the direction that the Office and Organisation should take:

IAM: A European perspective on global patent workload - by Ciarán McGinley (April/May 2007).

EPO staff converge in Munich for demonstration

On June 26th 2007 a mass demonstration of approximately 2000 EPO staff took place in front of the Administrative Council in the EPO´s head office on the river Isar, Munich. Other sites were on strike and sent staff to Munich to take part in the demo (photos...)

On June 19th the staff of the EPO in Munich striked (photos...) against the undermining of the European Patent System by the body entrusted with its governance, the Administrative Council. Simultaneously there was a demonstration held in Bern, in front of the Swiss Patent Office - home of Mr. Grossenbacher, the Chairman of the Administrative Council. National and individual interests (many of which financial) are dominating the decision making process and making it increasingly difficult for staff to maintain a high quality output of valid patents. The issue of governance of the EPO and its effect on the future of the European Patent System is a topic of heated debate. Some of the many reports that have more recently appeared in the press are as follows:

Heise: Warnung vor "Global Warming" des Patentwesens (27/06/07).

TZ: Mehr Masse statt Klasse beim Patentamt (27/06/07).

Im Europäischen Patentamt wird erneut gestreikt (15/06/07).

IAM: Civil war at the EPO (12/06/07).

IP::Jur: Landslide, Tremor or quake? (12/06/07).

Digital majority: EPO staff blame Admin Council for EPO woes (11/06/07).

Heise: Wirtschaftsforscher warnen vor ausuferndem Patentsystem (1/06/07).

BMWi Pressemitteilung: Wissenschaftlicher Beirat legt Gutachten "Patentschutz und Innovation" vor (31/05/07) and the Gutachten to which this refers.

VDI Nachrichten: Zukunft geistigen Eigentums steht weltweit auf der Kippe.

Staff dignity

EPO staff are currently fighting a number of battles with regard to their working conditions and basic rights. The following article appeared recently:

Agora: EPO management goes against fundamental rights of its staff (06/07).

Union Leaders Cite Need for Patent Fixes

An international coalition of patent examiners' unions--including representatives from the U.S., Europe, Canada, Germany, and Austria--signed and delivered a joint letter to their respective government agency leaders urging serious measures to maintain meaningful protection of intellectual property. The letter warned that pressures on examiners have threatened the patent examination system and outlined measures to stem a decline in patent quality. The letter can be found here in EN, FR, DE and was handed with a cover letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel whilst visiting the EPO in Munich on 18 April.

Some of the many press reports and comments sparked by this letter can be found as follows:

Frankfurter Rundschau: Patentprüfer schlagen Alarm (19/4/07).

Digital majority: The Examiners are Revolting (18/04/07).

Greg Aharonian, Internet Patent News Service: Global protest of PTO/EPO/GPO patent examiners (17/04/07).

IPKat: Open Letter From a Coalition of Patent Examiner Representatives (17/04/07).

Linux Magazin: Patentschützer warnen vor Kollaps des Patentsystems (17/04/07).

Heise: Patentprüfer sehen Patentsystem gefährdet (16/4/07).

BLOG@IP::JUR: POPA on Crisis of Patent System. (16/04/07).

Quality vs Quantity: current situation at EPO

In 2006 the EPO lost more than 12000 man-days to strikes against, amongst others, the introduction of a new examiner reporting system (based on production targets) which was planned for 01.01.2007. Since then, the system has been introduced (1.1.2008) in an amended form. In the rush for its introduction, many aspects were left very poorly defined and open to interpretation (and/or abuse to drive production at the expense of quality). It therefore remains to be seen what its effect will be.

Some of the many reports on the actions in the media can be found as follows:

An article appeared in the December 2006 edition of Agora, the magazine produced by the Union Syndicale Fédérale, entitled "Strikes at the European Patent Office (EPO)"

Die Welt: "Streik im Europäischen Patentamt" (27.10.2006)

EU Observer: "Europe faces surge in patent applications" (25.10.2006)

Futurezone.orf.at: "Europäische Patentprüfer streiken" (25.10.2006)

The Süddeutsche Zeitung wrote "Streit im Europäischen Patentamt" (21.10.2006), "Patentprüfer gegen neue Arbeitsbeurteilung" (26.10.2006) and "Patentprüfer im Streik - Wirtschaft" (26.10.2006) (access restricted to subscribers of the Süddeutsche Zeitung)

Heise.de has written the following newsticker reports: "Strike at European Patent Office" (10.05.2006), "Strike continues at European Patent Office" (16.05.2006), "Ganztägiger Streik beim Europäischen Patentamt" (18.05.2006), "Neue Streikwelle beim Europäischen Patentamt" (25.10.2006) "Krise des Patentsystems: Weiterer Streik am Europäischen Patentamt" (06.12.2006)

On 18.05.2006, Pfohlnet wrote "Ganztägiger Streik beim Europäischen Patentamt"

On 10.05.2006, ZDNet produced the article "Patent inspectors strike over quality fears"

Another article appeared in Nature in 2006 entitled "Patent officers crack under pressure"

Nature magazine produced an article in 2004 entitled "Pressured staff 'lose faith' in patent quality." (available to Nature subscribers only)

Back in February 2000, the New Scientist reported "Go-slow at patent office puts inventions on hold"

SUEPO has pledged to stimulate and contribute to the public debate on patent quantity vs. quality and we would like to point to the following interesting articles on this issue:

Heise: Europäisches Patentamt erteilte 2007 weniger Schutzrechte (24/06/08)

EGA: Patent-related Barriers to Market Entry for Generic Medicines in the European Union - A Review of Weaknesses in the Current European Patent System and their Impact on the Market Access of Generic Medicines (05/08), reproduced with kind permission.

MIP: Fees may rise as EPO stresses quality (Interview with Roland Grossenbacher, Chair of the Admin Council) (01/02/08).

Policy options for improving the European Patent System, a background document for the European Parliament STOA workshop.

IDEI (Institut d'Economie industrielle, University of Toulouse) have published a study, which was commissioned by SUEPO to look into objectives and incentives at the EPO.

A ZDNet article reports Survey: European patents have quality problems (8.6.2004)

A paper by Dietmar Harhoff (University of Munich), published by the Economic Council of Finland, Prime Minister's Office as a part of Finland's EU Presidency programme, Sept. 2006 (Chapter 2.1)

Contribution from UNICE to the Quality Conference at the EPO (DH), Nov. 2005

Mr Roland Grossenbacher, Chairman of the EPO Administrative Council in "Managing Intellectual Property", Sept. 2006

Thierry Sueur (IP department Air Liquide; UNICE) and Jacques Combeau (IP department Air Liquide) in "Interviews for the Future" published by the EPO in Summer 2006 (not available electronically)

An article in Patent World April 2004 entitled "Serving two masters", reproduced with kind permission.

The Management of the USPTO has also been criticised . Greg Aharonian of the Internet Patent News Service had these comments on the issue.

Comments from Otto Bossung (or here in German), one of the founding fathers of the EPO, on the governance structure of the EPO; see in particular section II, point 3

Europäisches Patentamt: Hoch über dem Gesetz

The EPO staff representation has also produced the following papers on the subject of quality:

"Pax: a recipe for bad quality" (28/4/2006)

"Pax: a prescription for ill health" (25/4/2006)

SUEPO position on the questionnaire of the European Commission on the patent system in Europe (30/3/2006)

Results of a staff survey on quality carried out in 2004

SUEPO position Paper: "Quality of Examination at the EPO" (18/5/2004)

"The quality mission of the European Patent Office - A perspective for the future" (3/9/2004)

From 2002 but still very relevant: "A Quality strategy for the EPO"