Bonum Certa Men Certa

EPO Staff Union on EPO's 50th Anniversary

posted by Roy Schestowitz on Jan 02, 2024

EPO at 50

The statement from SUEPO, as noted in "New Union Syndicale Articles About the European Patent Office" (back in October).

EPC 50 years celebrations: a balanced view

On the 5th of October, celebrations for the 50 years of the European Patent Convention (EPC) will take place at the EPO in the presence of high dignitaries of the host countries. On that occasion top EPO managers will surely extol the qualities of the Organisation, highlighting the crucial role of the Office for European innovation and industry, the EPO’s rapid progress in the digital era and the flexibilization of working patterns.

We will certainly join the celebratory mood, for there is much to be proud about the EPO’s achievements, but it would not be amiss to also acknowledge explicitly the contribution of Staff — and the costs it has had to shoulder in the process.

Mr Campinos has been at the helm of the European Patent Office since 2018; one of his main mandates was to restore social dialogue after the difficult presidency of Mr. Battistelli. EPO staff widely experienced Mr Battistelli’s presidency as oppressive and laden with fear. This has thankfully receded under Mr Campinos’ leadership, but unfortunately a culture of burnout, exhaustion and disengagement has taken over.  The main culprits appear to be excessive work pressure, reduction of job satisfaction, and lack of trust in the EPO’s management.

Colleagues are subject to intense work pressure in a system that incentivises raw quantitative output. There are troubling indications that staff’s health is negatively affected (see here). Meanwhile, the quality of delivered patents is coming under public scrutiny (see “links quality” below). Feedback from outside can be valuable, and necessary (if patent quality were objectively found to be decreasing, it would create real problems for European industry, and the EPO would certainly be advised to take action in this respect); but in the context, critical views from the outside seem to corroborate the pervasive feeling among staff that quantity trumps quality, which adds frustration and detracts from job satisfaction.  A further source of frustration is the fact that employment conditions are being curtailed — and this with only pro forma involvement of social partners — while positive changes for Staff can seemingly be extracted only through litigation at the ILOAT rather than true social dialogue.

Much more needs to be done to restore the trust of the public and the staff in the mission of the EPO. It is urgent that the outcomes of the EPO’s internal justice system (Appeals Committee) are respected. Furthermore, there have been instances where the execution of ILOAT judgments handed down in favour of staff (see here and here) have been refused.

Not less important is the need to respect the provisions by the EPC itself, such as convening the Conference of ministers of the Contracting States as envisioned in Article 4a EPC (see here). Re-establishing a work environment and a career system that safeguards the required impartiality of the Divisions and protects their members from undue interference is also imperative.

This would help mitigate the impression held by a substantial section of staff that management does not deserve their trust, as was found again in the latest staff survey (see here).

The 50 years of the European Patent Convention would be a good opportunity for the EPO to:

so that the Organisation can return to fulfilling the mission of the EPO: granting EPC compliant, legally sound patents.
This would be the greatest gift for the 50th anniversary of the European Patent Convention.

Kind regards,
SUEPO Central Bureau

Links Conference of Ministers Article 4a EPC:

Links quality:

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