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 links “health, disengagement” below). 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 International Labour Association Administrative Tribunal (ILOAT) rather than true social dialogue. As a side note on this: it is urgent that the outcomes of the EPO’s internal justice system (Appeals Committee) are respected and all judgments of the ILOAT in favour of staff promptly executed (see here and here). 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 links “health, disengagement” below).
The 50 years of the European Patent Convention would be a good opportunity for the EPO to:
- repair the career system and ensure healthy workload balancing;
- follow the recommendations of its internal judiciary;
- convene the Conference of ministers of the Contracting States according to Article 4a EPC (see here);
- unequivocally restore the freedom of communication as demanded by the International Labour Organisation Administrative Tribunal (link to judgment here);
- remember that our union, our members and the EPO staff have been an essential element in the success of the EPC; and therefore
- resume genuine social dialogue so that the Organisation can return to fulfilling the mission of the EPO: granting EPC compliant, legally sound patents and restore the trust of the public and the staff in the mission of the EPO.
This would be the greatest gift for the 50th anniversary of the European Patent Convention.
Links health, disengagement
See https://techrights.org/2022/12/08/epo-on-the-decline/. SUEPO doesn’t have any links with techrights and does not endorse a lot of the content included on the website. However, quite a few documents published on techrights are genuine, for example these ones:
“[The 2022] staff survey [regularly conducted by external company Technologia upon the request of the SUEPO union]. Summary, ODF version of the corresponding presentation, and results along with a message from the union are included here because copies need to be made available to the general public”
- (RND published on 14/07/2023) “„Die Kasse muss stimmen“: Warum das Europäische Patentamt in der Kritik steht“. Translations of the article are available in English, French and Dutch.
- (Kluwer Patent Blog published on 05/07/2023) “Deteriorating patent quality: EPO under fire, management is not impressed“. Translations of the article are available in German, French and Dutch.
- (Stuttgarter Zeitung published on 26/05/2023) “Kritik am Europäischen Patentamt – Patente ohne Wert?” Translations are available in English, French and Dutch.
- https://patentblog.kluweriplaw.com/2023/03/06/staff-committee-epo-supports-initiative-industry-patent-quality-center/ and https://wolterskluwerblogs.com/patent/wp-content/uploads/sites/52/2023/03/sc23024cp.pdf