With about 95% permanent staff and “only” around 5% fixed-term employees, the EPO seems from the outside in “Splendid isolation” when compared to most of the other international and European organisations. However, as it is often the case with figures, they do not tell the whole story and from an insider point of view the employment conditions and their recent trends at the EPO do not appear to be so “isolated” and even less “splendid”.
Due to the highly specific technical and legal skills requested from the majority of staff at the EPO, it has long been considered that fixed-term contracts were not the appropriate form of employment for this Office. The need of a lengthy and thorough training of new employees is a condition “sine qua non” to grant quality patents. This necessary time and resources investment could be lost for the organisation if fixed-term contracts were the norm, let alone the knowledge accumulated and shared by the newly recruited staff. Furthermore, at the individual level, “a Golden Cage Syndrome” exists at the EPO, since after some years of employment, staff tend to specialise in the field of patents and lose their general expertise. The expertise in the field of patents is not easily recognised in other fields. Staff leaving the EPO after some years of employment could find it very difficult to find employment elsewhere at comparable conditions. These considerations were valid in the past and are still valid today.
The introduction in 2018 of fixed-term contracts  as the norm for newly recruited employees, renewable up to a period of 10 consecutive years has created a new situation which goes against those considerations. If at this moment in time, mainly due to budgetary and contingency reasons, only 5% percent of the total work force at the EPO is made up of fixed-term employees, the present upper limit of 20% of fixed-term employees on the overall workforce combined with the extended duration of 10 years does not bode well for the future of the staff employment conditions and the future of EPO.
A draft circular to clarify these regulations is presently under discussion. Although there seem to be some minor positive improvements, the most important issues at stake, in particular the maximum duration of 10 years for fixed contracts have not been positively addressed as requested by SUEPO and the Staff Representation. A new orientation paper on mobility, regarding short term traineeships, internal and external mobility and employment, is also presently under discussion.
 Modernisation of the EPO’s employment framework, CA/3/18, 23.02.2018