Executive version: Quite a few scholars have tried to decipher the hymn sheet shown on Elias Haussmann’s famous portrait of Johann Sebastian Bach. This blog tries to decipher the latest changes in the EPO Management just announced by the President.

Elias Gottlob Haussmann, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

On a peaceful, sunny morning as we had it today I sometimes indulge in the pleasure of listening to a Bach cantata during breakfast. I can only highly recommend this: it is good for your peace of mind, elating for your spirit (at least if you love classical music) and almost always educational as well, particularly when you listen to and watch the fantastic performances of the Netherlands Bach Society, available free of charge and ads and together with excellent explanatory notes here. Yesterday, for example, I listened with joy to BWV 110 „Unser Mund sei voll Lachens“, this morning I moved on to BWV 120 „Gott, man lobet dich in der Stille“. And then I opened my inbox.

It contained a reference to the EPO President’s Communiqué_Adjustments_to_Organisation_Structure_20210124 announcing several „adjustments to our organisational structure“, most of which are to become effective 1 April 2022. It is a highly technical document, full of management gobbledegook, not easy to understand for an EPO outsider, so let me try to analyze it a bit. Firstly, for background, the EPO has an considerable number of directorates and principal directorates („PD“) all of which are entrusted with management tasks. You can find a handy summary in the EPO’s organizational chart here.

Looking next at the melodious titles of the managers in charge of these entities and trying to figure out what these titles mean, I could not escape the feeling that this organization no longer resembles an “office”. To me, it was much more like looking into the machine room of a very big corporation. Let us call this organization European Patents Inc. for the moment.

Namely, the EPO / EPInc. employs, in addition to a President and four Vice Presidents, inter alia: a Chief of Staff, a Chief Technology Officer, a Chief Financial Officer, a Chief Information Officer, a Chief Sustainability Officer, a Chief People Officer, a Chief Business Analyst, a Chief Economist, and a Chief Corporate Policies Officer. I intend no offence to the numerous other PDs of probably equal rank but with no “Chief” in their titles and instead kindly refer readers to this EPO website for more titles, names and faces. In summary, EP Inc. has a lot of chiefs, each one of them with a couple of underlings (aka “Directors”) and sub-underlings. The principal directors and several selected directors form the EPO Management Advisory Committee (MAC).

A couple of changes have now been announced in this management structure, at least officially “to consider the needs of all our stakeholders, with the primary aim of further deepening collaboration and strengthening our One Office culture”. I will leave it there and focus on the changes in just one sector that I found particularly interesting, i.e. “Corporate Policies”. This is perhaps not a self-explanatory title for an office (assuming that the EPO still is an office, not a corporation). What are corporate policies of the EPO, and should they not be called “Office Policies”?

Anyway, the “PD Corporate Policies” used to include three directorates, (i) Compensation and Benefits, (ii) Employment Law, and (iii) Workforce Planning and Employee Policies. These seem to me to be typical tasks of Human Resource Management, yet I note that the present structure also included a “PD People” with again three directorates two of which have “HR” in their names. Thus, not exactly a simple structure.

In strict adherence to the second law of thermodynamics – entropy always increases -, the planned new structure may be seen to be even more complex than the present one, because the classic HR functions will now be divided between no less than three Principal Directorates, i.e. PD “People”, PD “Corporate Policies” and a new PD “Employment Law and Social Dialogue Advice” that will be under the direct responsibility of the President himself. But there is also another and perhaps even more interesting way of looking at these changes, and that is from the point of view of the PD Corporate Policies.

Namely, this Principal Directorate will now be losing two of its earlier directorates, one (employment law) to the President himself and one (Workforce Planning and Employee Policies) to the PD People. I have tried to show this here:

New EPO Org. Chart (simplified excerpt)

In lieu of these two directorates, a new directorate “Prospects and Studies” will be established and assigned to Corporate Policies, which is supposed to “help ensure that the social package the Office provides, remains competitive and sustainable for current, past and future staff and their families”. For this purpose, the new directorate is supposed to conduct regular benchmarking exercises, studies and to closely monitor economic and demographic indicators. And, even more remarkably, the new Principal Directorate will also be renamed. Its new name will be “Principal Directorate Welfare and Remuneration”.

Whether this change in name and organizational structure will really signalize a difference in the EPO’s approach towards its staff and whether it may even forebode a change in the responsible manager (“Chief”) of this entity remains to be seen. The current Chief Corporate Policies Officer, Mme. Elodie Bergot, who used to be the EPO’s PD for Human Resources under President Battistelli, has not exactly acquired a reputation in the EPO of standing for social harmony, as reported by JuVe, and has at times even shown weaknesses in observing fundamental rights of employees such as the right to strike, as the Administrative Tribunal of the ILO held. These are perhaps not the qualities that one might expect from a Principal Director who is supposed to be responsible for “Welfare and Remuneration” of the office staff.

Thus, while some scepticism is always appropriate (see: Es gibt nichts Gutes. Außer man tut es.) and there is always the possibility that these changes are just cosmetic (or even Orwellian) in nature, one might at least cautiously hope that these organizational changes are meant to signalize a bit of a change to the better. Employment law will now be made “Chefsache” and the PD renamed as “Employment Law and Social Dialogue Advice”, which is perhaps no bad approach if the idea is to avoid future negative headlines arising from AT ILO decisions and unpleasant discussions in the Administrative Council (always provided that actions follow the words!). Moreover, an important directorate that will likely play a big role in establishing the EPO’s “New Normal” including more working from home (more on this in a later blog), will be moved to PD People. Let us hope that these changes will help to promote more social peace and more meaningful dialogue with staff at a stage where decisions have not already been made.

Until then, let us praise God in silence (BWV 110) and hope that our mouth will be full of laughter and our tongue of singing (BWV 120) again in a couple of months.


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Kluwer IP Law
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9 comments

  1. Thorsten, on reading your piece, what springs first to mind is the wheeze that politicians often employ, to fend off investigation: they shuffle responsibilities anew, dividing them up between various Ministries with fancy new names.

    Two men in the news this very week are UK Prime Minister Johnson and retired Pope Joseph Ratzinger, both now known to have rather a relaxed relationship with the truth. . Along with the EPO President’s clique……………..: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

  2. At the rate the EPO is going it will resemble more and more to a Mexican army.
    Lots of generals, but not much more.
    The number of directors and principal directors is getting inflated everywhere in the office but not in DG1, which after all is bringing in the money.
    As far as teleworking is considered, the president seems to have faced resistance from a number of contracting states in the last session of the AC in December.
    See under the following link the communique of the Central Staff Committee.

    http://techrights.org/2022/01/24/revoking-unwanted-vote/

    Is the time when the tail was wagging the dog coming to an end?
    It is to be hoped!

    In German there is a nice expression: When the cow feels good she goes on the ice.
    Sorry for the cow, but I could not resist.

  3. Max may well be correct that the intention is to slice and dice so that more responsibilities fall between the cracks … and thereby provide cover for inaction on the part of management. Alternatively, it is possible that the EPO anticipates that the work currently undertaken by HR Services will expand so much that it needs to be divided over three separate Directorates.

    Either way, it is hard for outsiders to discern any logic in the decision to allocate responsibility for “Employment law” and “Employee policies” to different Directorates. An optimist might speculate that the President perhaps wants to ensure that the advice on employment law that he receives is reliable (ie with no possibility of having been influenced by anyone in HR Services) and/or to gain more direct control over the resolution of legal disputes relating to the EPO’s Service Regulations. On the other hand, a pessimist might fear that more time and resources allocated to “Employment law”, and its separation from “Employee policies”, will make it possible for the EPO to fight even harder in disputes with staff, and to drag them out for even longer … perhaps even including resisting the (proper) implementation of ILO-AT decisions.

    Only time will tell. In the meantime, the only thing that it clear is that the EPO has no fear of increasing the number of managers whose salaries will need to be supported by the (dwindling) pool of staff that do the work that generates fee income.

  4. Dear Thorsten,

    a long time ago, the EPO was built on three technical areas, roughly labelled as mechanics, electronics and biology/chemistry. Each area was headed by a Principal Director (PD). Technology evolves (thankfully, or we would be out of business), and the EPO created fourteen clusters. Each cluster was headed by a PD. Eleven new PD posts had been created, dedicated to the patent area.

    Later, the EPO restructured to “Joint Clusters”, cutting the number of PDs in the patent area to seven. The next round of restructuring brought the EPO to three sectors: mobility and mechatronis (M&M), information and communications technology (ICT) and healthcare, biotech & chemistry (HBC). Any resemblance with the earlier structure is pure coincidence. These three sectors are each run by a PD. The latest twist is that there will be one “Super PD” or COO.

    This exercise was said to increase quality, efficiency, efficacy, user satisfaction as well as employee motivation and engagement. As a side effect it also created a huge number of high level posts – 11 new PDs – which had to be filled. Most of those posts have been moved away from the patent area. That is why we now have e.g. a Chief Sustainability Officer and the likes.

    If you take a look at Article 15 EPC (defining the departments in the EPO), you will not find anything even remotely resembling the positions listed in the blog. This really begs the question why we have them and what their justification is.

  5. Indeed, the EPO has become too much corporate and remained too little patent office. About 25-30% of staff are now non-revenue (excluding DG1 (examiner/formalities officers) and BoA). How does that compare to corporate or other large patent offices?
    If upper management wishes to run the office like a corporation then bad decisions which cost the EPO many millions (like the move to Haar and back again, or the right of staff to assemble and strike) should also have corporate consequences. The individuals responsible for these decisions are still in the upper floors of the Isar building.

    1. As you say, anon. But are the MS’s “clients”? Aren’t they more like shareholders?

      Under the law, a corporation owes no duty to its employees, its suppliers, its customers, those who have a human interest in the survival of the corporation. Its only duty is to deliver to its shareholders what those shareholders perceive as “value”.

      As has been pointed out, free dental care for AC members was all fine and good but by now is no longer enough. Having been given a taste of rich dividends and assorted pay-outs, the EPO’s shareholders are, it seems, ever more greedy for more.

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