Staff members of the EPO have little confidence in the top management. They don’t think there is a clear and coherent strategy, there are big concerns about quality and also about the increasing work load. This is shown by the fifth Technologia Survey, the results of which have been shared with staff last week.

The survey, which was commissioned by trade union SUEPO, reveals deep divisions between management and staff. It was published just ahead of the meeting of the Administrative Council, 29 and 30 June 2022, in which a decision about the re-appointment of António Campines as EPO president for a second term until 2028 is on the agenda.

One sign of the lack of trust between staff and management is the fact that the Technologia survey could be held among SUEPO members only and those among EPO staff who actively opted in, since president Campinos refused SUEPO to use EPO emails*.

Some results in more detail:

  • I think top management has set out a clear and coherent strategy for the EPO: 31% of respondents said they totally disagree, 33% tend to disagree, 21% are neutral, 14% tend to agree and 2% totally agree.
  • I support the strategy of the EPO set out by top management: 39% totally disagree, 32% tend to disagree, 21% neutral, 7% tend to agree, 1% totally agree.
  • In my view, the actions of top management and the strategy adopted have departed considerably from the role that the EPO should be playing in the European patent system: 6% totally disagree, 12% tend to disagree, 20% neutral, 31% tend to agree, 32% totally agree.
  • I identify with top management’s view: 46% totally disagree, 35% tend to disagree, 15% neutral, 4% tend to agree, 1% totally agree.
  • I identify with the views of Staff Representation: 1% totally disagree, 5% tend to disagree, 17% neutral, 51% tend to agree, 27% totally agree.

Questions about the level of trust in superiors show a staggering 3% confidence in president Campinos and 1% in the Management Advisory Committee, whereas the confidence in immediate superiors is relatively good.

  • Trust in my immediate superior : 7% very little, 12% little, 24% neutral, 35% much, 22% very much
  • My director : 20% very little, 19% little, 37% neutral, 18% much, 6% very much
  • My Principal Director/COO : 50% very little, 26% little, 20% neutral, 4% much, 1% very much
  • My Vice President : 47% very little, 24% little, 23% neutral, 6% much, 1% very much
  • The Management Advisory Committee: 60% very little, 24% little, 16% neutral, 1% much, 0% very much
  • The President : 61% very little, 23% little, 13% neutral, 3% much, 0% very much

Quality

The survey also clarifies there are concerns about the quality of the work the EPO produces and about recent reorganizations.

In reaction to the statement: ‘Do you consider that the introduction of a performance-related bonus at the level of the individual employee is a good thing for the QUALITY OF THE WORK produced by the European Patent Office?: 61% answered they totally disagree, 28% tend to disagree, 10% tend to agree, 1% totally agree.

With the following statement: ‘the current president and top management have taken useful measures to maintain and improve the quality of the EPO’s products and services’, 38% totally disagrees, 32% tends to disagree, 19% is neutral, 11% tends to agree, 1% totally agrees.

Staff members were asked as well how many times ‘the operational organigram around your post within the EPO’ had been restructured in the last three years. 19% answered ‘never’, but more than 80% of respondents had experienced such restructuring (once 30%, twice 34%, three times or more 18%).

These reorganizations concerning their post were ‘pointless’, according to 86% of respondents. 72% said that the ‘constant reorganizations and restructuring over recent years are pointless and have a negative effect on my situation’.

In the meantime, the economic situation of the EPO is favorable, according to most respondents: 2% say: ‘disagree and it bothers me’, 6% disagree, 66% agree, 26% say ‘agree and I appreciate’

Equality

The Technologia survey was also about the personal situation of staff members. A remarkable result is the reaction to the statement: ‘Employees are treated equally at the EPO’: 32% totally disagrees, 30% tends to disagree, up sharp since the 2020 survey, in which these numbers were 8% and 22% respectively.

Some other findings:

  • I can expand my professional competences: 14% answer: disagree and it bothers me, 38% disagree, 40% agree, 9% says: agree and I appreciate
  • The amount of work I am tasked with is acceptable: 29% disagree and it bothers me, 36% disagree, 30% agree, 5% agree and I appreciate
  • My work pace is acceptable: 24% disagree and it bothers me, 34% disagree, 37% agree, 5% agree and I appreciate
  • My professional activity allows me to balance work life and private life: 20% disagree and it bothers me, 30% disagree, 41% agree, 10% agree and I appreciate
  • My work is interesting: 7% disagree and it bothers me, 17% disagree, 55% agree, 21% agree and I appreciate

Remarkable also is the reaction to the statement: Do you work outside the hours provided for by the regulations governing your working hours? 58% work in the evening or at night, 26% during weekends or public holidays, 16% during holidays. 36% don’t work outside working hours.

This a huge change compared to earlier Technologia surveys, in which many more respondents said they did not work outside working hours: 76% in 2010, 69% in 2013, 61% in 2016, 58% in 2020.

Proud

Asked to describe the work atmosphere at the level of the EPO, respondents mentioned the words: tense (56%), confrontational (35%), cold (31%), warm (2%), cheerful (1%).

69% of staff feel very tired (sometimes, often or always), 42% feel depressed and 37% feel desperate. 67% think their current work life affects their health.

93% of respondents said they were fairly (44%) of very (49%) proud to work for the European Patent Office before. But asked whether they are proud to work for the European Patent Office now, only 34% said they are fairly proud, and a mere 8% is very proud.

*Over 6545 staff, the questionnaire was sent to 2915 and 1766 participated.


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18 comments

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  2. These results are appalling. In any sane public sector organization, the only conclusion would be that a major shake-up in management is urgently needed.

    Now, of course, this being the EPO, I am not holding my breath.

  3. One may say that there is some consistency in EPO’s top management goals/actions for the past 10 years since the same questionnaire over 5 iterations shows a solid coherence in negative results.

    The dogmatic beliefs of pseudo top managers who have no clues nor competencies with regard to those they are in charge of, prevail over the interests of the applicants or the public at large.

    Their sole interest is to please the administrative council delegations so that their contract be extended and they get bonuses and functional allowances in return for deteriorations of the working conditions for the examiners and support staff.

    This mismanagement within a european public organisation is scandalous.

  4. The results of the survey clearly point to a demotivated, stressed and depressed workforce that has little to no trust in management and serious concerns regarding quality of the EPO’s output. There is simply no way of dressing this up: the results demonstrate that the current President has failed miserably to resolve social tensions at the EPO.

    When the AC appointed the current President, their public pronouncements gave the impression that resolving social tensions would be a key priority for him. But will an epic failure with respect to this key performance indicator prevent his reappointment? More specifically, being in mind the potential “gifts” to the AC delegations that CA 32/22 might place at the disposal of the President, how seriously will the AC view the President’s abject failure to restore social peace?

  5. Considering that 92% of those asked agree with the economic situation and that 76% find their work interesting is a pretty good starting point. The communications problem between management and staff has been evident for quite some time and escalated to levels where change appears to be inevitable. Can EPO find a 21st century manager?

    1. The EPO needs a 1960s or 70s manager.
      Someone who grew through the organisation and knows the work being done.
      An engineer/chemist/scientist, not an MBA, nor a politician.

      But that is true for most companies and organisations…

      1. That person would be about 100 years old by now. I like the idea of a wise old man/woman, but I am not sure if he/she would want to put up with this.

    2. In response to your question, ask yourself whether the AC even bothered with interviewing any alternative candidates. My suspicion is that the wait for a manager of the EPO who has any respect for the rule of law – let alone 21st century management practices – will become much like the wait for Godot.

      1. It was meant more as rhetorical question, with a challenge to a constructive approach. Sort of like “Open your mind”

  6. The result of the survey is clearly not in favor of the top management.

    This is nothing new, but the speed at which the present tenant of the 10th floor has alienated his own staff is flabbergasting.

    In any well run organisation it would bring about a change in the upper management by the controlling body. But at the EPO the tail is wagging the dog.

    As long as the AC accepts to rubber stamp any decision proposed by the management the situation will continue to deteriorate.

    The quality might deteriorate, but until the effects are felt, there is a great latency time. This in favor of management as it allows to show figures of production/productivity which guarantees a steady flow of renewal fees. That all what matters for the AC.

    That lots of patents come out of the opposition procedure maimed or even revoked is not a problem for bulk filers. They still have enough patents in their portfolio. When it hits a SME with a few patents, the story is different.

    This is one of the white elephants in the room!

    The problem is that the present head of the office and it’s predecessor confuse immunity with impunity!

  7. The results of the other survey, the official one with >5000 respondents, organised by the office itself, will be out at the end of July. They will be even more impressive: zero trust from employees towards all managers.
    Still, despite all empty promises. nobody at the EPO expects anything to actually happen.
    I’ll be gone at the end of this year. You are stuck with the Portuguese until 2028.

  8. To all those who think that the EPO is heaven on earth, according to my info in 2021 more than 50% – FIFTY – of the job applicants to an examiner position at EPO who were offered a job did not take it, many of them not even bothering to inform the EPO that they would not come.

    So to those who think that the working conditions at EPO are over the top, that the working atmosphere is cool or the kind of work one performs there is so exciting, well sorry but Gen Z and millennials may beg to differ

    1. I am glad to see some figures now, just as a reference: where I work (and is one of the most renowned employers, at least in chemistry) only one out of four positively interviewed candidates accepts the offer at the end and we make use of a consulting company which does for us an intensive and professional “hunting” and pre-selecting job ahead of our interviews. This could depend from the fact that we are very selective and demanding when choosing our potential new colleagues, if we were to choose with a lower professional expectation and less rigorous selection the acceptance rate would be for sure higher

      1. On average, a job offer is declined in less than 30% of the cases. Google is your friend.

        So, either you misunderstood your statistics or you work in a really terrible place.

      2. Dear law sniffer

        all depends from where you start from. I do not dispute that you may find worse conditions elsewhere but this is irrelevant and not the point.

        All “reforms” forced on the workforce for past two decades were not contributing in any way to make of the EPO a stronger office from a qualitative point of view. It squeezed the lemon dry, with now tired, depressed and more precarious workers rubber-stamping patents to meet their stupid targets and avoid being removed at the end of their contract.

        This is not a sustainable management, this does not serve the public.

  9. it’s an open secret for those who know the backstage of the EPO but the only time the EPO hired HR consultancy to run a selection procedure for VPs years ago, the one candidate who was not selected as he was clearly identified as unfit for the position due to his profile, is the very same man who was hired as president of the EPO a few years later and who will lead this beautiful organisation into social chaos as well as the IP community into despair.

    Nothing could stop him to act erratically as he and his minions did, not even the courts, the dozens of EU MPs questioning the EU Commission or the Council of Europe which passed a motion signed by dozens of MPs, and not even the bad press throughout Europe which recurrently reminded the society of the deleterious things that occurred at EPO.

    So hoping to find competency at the highest level of the EPO is illusory since contrary to the EU institutions in Brussels, the EPO does not dispose upon check and balances and can exercise without any true public scrutiny and transparency, into what is now very much looking like unethical governance.

    I remember a striking parallel done between the EPO and the FIFA in an article which years ago tried to alert the public on the situation to no avail. Not even Germany, Switzerland, the NL or the Scandinavian countries which are always prone to give the world lessons in Ethics and the Rule of Law did act to restore the situation http://www.fosspatents.com/2015/06/striking-structural-parallels-between.html

  10. I don’t typically post comments here, but I just wanted to say to whoever posts these articles on EPO issues, well done and carry on. Don’t let EPO management bully you (or the blog’s publisher) into changing topics or sanitising comments. They’ve done this to many sites before. They’re NOT AN ORDINARY PATENT OFFICE!

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