06.28.17

EPO Staff Bemoans “Another Reform à la Battistelli That Only Benefits Battistelli”

Posted in Europe, Patents at 1:56 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Summary: A letter from anonymous EPO staff details the ways in which Battistelli’s power grab would further harm the EPO

Epostaff4rights.org, a Web site which is unfortunately not accessible to most browsers, does not receive as much attention as it deserves, albeit it was cited by The Register less than a fortnight ago. We were implicitly authorised to reproduce the text below, in HTML form. It explains how EPO management is scheming to seize even great control later this week, effectively becoming akin to a monarchy.


DG1-DG2

Reorganisation

Another reform à la Battistelli that only benefits Battistelli

So far Mr Battistelli’s reforms have shown a strong tendency to break what they were claiming to build. Think of the EPO’s internal appeals system, and its career system, of the Boards of Appeal (BoA) reform and Social Democracy (1.0 and 2.0). We expect the next reform, announced in Communiqué 2/2017 to be similarly detrimental to the EPO and its staff. A quick run through the Communiqué will already show some obvious flaws.

For the EPO, increasing our quality, production and timeliness has become an essential aspect of our strategy …”

Apart from the fact that staff has not seen any real efforts from the administration to increase “quality”, this sort of generic statement can apply to any business or service. The staff of the EPO are still waiting for Mr Battistelli to formulate anything that could qualify as a long-term strategy for the European patent system.

Boston Consulting Group (BCG) was commissioned in September 2016 to study future scenarios for the Office’s operation and support areas.” True. But in their final report of January 20171 they did not recommend the option now chosen, which, according to BCG, will not increase efficiency/productivity, or clarity and simplicity, but probably at least have a negative impact on external user orientation, and decrease workload flexibility2,3,4.

The newly structured DG 1 …, headed by a Vice-President, will be responsible for the whole patent granting process from filing until publication.”

Three Chief Operating Officers (COOs) will be responsible within DG1 …

Each will have a direct reporting line to the President.”

Now what exactly will that new VP1 (Mr Casado) be responsible for if the three COOs report directly to the President? Handing out the bottles of champagne to those who complete their 25 years at the Office?5

Each Director will manage the applications end to end, supervising both examiners and formality officers.”

The examining directors were responsible for the formalities officers (FOs) until 2005. The problem is that about 75% of the work done by FOs relates to external users. Directors, coming from an examination background, mostly had little understanding for this part of the formalities work and tended to prioritise the relatively small part of the formalities work that concerned the examiners (“points”), leaving the formalities officers feeling unsupported in the larger part of their work. This will not have changed.

Unlike examiner work, PA work is not stock-driven but needs to be delivered just in time. PA must cope with weekly fluctuations of 20% of the incoming workload. This workload volatility has so far been mastered by the hub structure and efficient management of the available work force by PA managers6. Directors, who will already be responsible for a mega-directorate with about 60 patent examiners, might not consider this additional management task their highest priority.

The current DG 4 “Administration” becomes DG2 “Corporate Services” … IM will move to the new DG 2 with the CIO having the same direct reporting line to the President.

This is also not new. Information management (IM) has been part of DG4 before. But the same question applies as for DG1: what will Mr Topic actually be responsible for with Mr Battistelli directly controlling IM and Ms Bergot controlling the rest?

The implementation phase will start as from 1st July 2017 to be finished by 1st January 2018.”

Why this haste?”, we wonder. So did Boston Consulting7. The consultants advised a more cautious approach, given that the hub structure in Patent Administration is still very fresh and that reorganisations in DG1 (large directorates and team managers) are still ongoing. Boston Consulting also pointed out that top management had signaled a phase of consolidation after several years of accelerated change and significant growth of production, in line with the recommendations of several recent studies. In fact, Boston Consulting questions the very need for a structural reform8 .

The new structure will not fundamentally change the work of patent examiners and formality officers …

For the formalities officers the above statement is certainly not true. If you count the relevant Articles and Rules in the EPC, you will understand that formalities cover a much wider range of legal issues than search and examination. The differences between the various EPC procedures (search, examination and opposition) as well as the differences between EPC, PCT and national procedures are also greater for formalities officers than for examiners. That is why formalities officers have always specialised in 2 or 3 procedures. Their new assignment to examining directorates and the focus on “end-to-end” processing will demand a much wider range of expertise from the formalities officers. The change from specialists to generalists and the reduction of team work will lead to a lower efficiency and thus to a higher work pressure. What this shows is that those who designed the new structure (mainly DG1 managers) do not understand formalities work and what formalities officers need to be able to work efficiently.

On page 71 of their report, BCG explain why the implementation of “end-to-end” processing requires a very careful approach: “In our conversations at the EPO we noticed that, in spite of the very constructive and collegial leadership style in and around the MAC, there are many disagreements, unresolved disputes and open questions which separate DG1 and PA. Pursuing one of the merger scenarios would be greatly facilitated by removing these impediments one by one in a mediation-like exercise which would help transform certain fears among some managers and staff into new trust.

The merger will also present more career opportunities for our staff with the creation of new management posts.”

Now that is twisting the truth – badly. Due to the mega-directorates, the number of directors in the examination area (full-time managers; paid in a higher grade) is being reduced from about 150 to about 65 to 70. The newly appointed “team leaders” take on managerial functions – but in addition to their normal work, and while remaining in the same grade. The manager posts in Patent Administration will be entirely suppressed and also replaced with “team leaders”9. Whereas more examiners and formalities officers may thus “enjoy” managerial responsibilities, and receive a “functional allowance” while performing such functions, this in no way represents an increase in “career opportunities” – quite the contrary.

Conclusions

The planned “end-to-end patent granting process”, if implemented, is likely to have a negative effect on the quality and harmonisation of PA services delivered to external users, while increasing the work pressure for the majority of the formalities officers.

The introduction of a direct reporting line between the new COOs and the president would give him even more control over the patent examination process while marginalising the role of VP1 and VP2. This planned organisational change respects the wording of Rule 9 EPC but conflicts with its spirit.

Despite the negative effects for external users, formalities officers and EPO
managers, there is one person who is the winner from this reorganisation: the President. That is, if gaining power is something he considers a gain.

www.epostaff4rights.org

2The present hubs facilitate harmonisation, workload management and knowledge sharing since formalities officers work in teams. The planned reorganisation would abolish the hubs.

3The option chosen by the administration has much in common with “Option 5: full merger” (starting on page 55 of the report), since the current structure of Patent Administration (PA) will be entirely dissolved and its elemenst fully integrated into DG1: “Synergies however would be more difficult to unlock, as the FOs would have to work in small silos and not be able to benefit from each other to the same extent that they do in the status quo.The abolition of the hub structure will also result in less flexible workload management for FOs. This can be (partially) solved through floaters.” “The plan to abolish the hub structure will probably be met with strong resistance from PA. A major challenge in the full-merger scenario will therefore be to engage especially the former DG2 staff, make them feel appreciated and preserve their strong team spirit.

4BCG instead recommended “Option 4: balanced merger” (starting on page 55 of the report), where “DG2 becomes the custodian of the end-to-end management of the patent grant process, as seen from the user’s perspective.” Under this scenario, customer services and quality management would remain in DG2, and the new DG2 would be responsible for the harmonisation of PA customer services across the new DG1.

5GCC/DOC 12/2017 is quite revealing “Rule 9 EPC stipulates (1) that examiners as well as Formalities Officers in the receiving section are assigned to a DG and (2) that such a DG is directed by a VP. On this basis it is preferable to establish the three operational units as part of the new DG1 directed by a VP, while maintaining a direct reporting line from each COO to the President.” (see GCC/DOC 12/2017, page 5, “LEGAL CONSIDERATIONS”)

6If PA units including hubs are dissolved in a merger scenario, there must be an answer to the question how such flexibility is restored. At the very least, DG1 Directors must be qualified to negotiate flexible ways of working with the same positive impact on quality and user satisfaction as under the status quo.” (page 72 of the BCG report)

7The results on employee engagement simply echo the findings of the Social Study which noted a certain degree of reform fatigue at the EPO and unspecific resistance to further change. Therefore, the more profound the desired reorganisation effort, the more negative the expected impact on employee engagement.” (page 62 of the report)

8See “Case for action” on page 76 of the report “ a reorganisation affecting the reporting lines and collaboration of roughly 90% of the workforce is a far-reaching and potentially time-consuming reform. This requires a clear case for action based on a consistent “theory of change”, Whether a change in the organisational structure is the most promising lever to release this potential for growth, is open to debate.

9“Similarly, DG1 considers today’s layer of unit managers and deputy managers in PA to be largely redundant in a merger scenario, potentially freeing up 49 FTEs.” (report, page 72)

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