The industry has serious concerns about the deteriorating patent quality at the European Patent Office. The issue was discussed earlier this month between the EPO and the Industry Patent Quality Charter, an group representing major international corporations, law firms and patent offices.
After their meeting, Beat Weibel, chief IP counsel, group senior vice-president at Siemens and a driving force behind the IPQC, sent a letter to the EPO, summarizing the results of the meeting and proposing the creation of working groups to address the IPQC’s concerns. The tone of the letter is strikingly critical and points, among others, at the working environment for the examiners and the lack of time they have for thorough search and examination:
‘(…) We are happy that we seem to have found a common starting and are keen to continue our constructive dialogue.
(…) Therefore, we have a vital interest in high quality patents. However, our influence on quality is mainly focused on the drafting of patent applications and on the portfolio management of granted patents. These aspects we try to cover with our self-obligation according to the IPQC text. Regarding the search and examination of patent applications, however, we are highly dependent on patent offices.
As explained and based on our daily factual experience with search and examination reports, we feel that the search and examination quality of the EPO decreased in the last years.
In our meeting we therefore presented the following requests to the EPO that we would like to elaborate in detail with you in a further constructive dialogue.
1. Complete searches
a. Provide a search prior are for ALL claims (acc. To Art. 92, R. 61 EPC) and a commented search report raising further patentability issues (R. 62). NOT raise patentability issues first, delete critical features and search prior art only for the remaining features.
b. Make search criteria and strategy transparent.
c. Provide examiners with a sufficient amount of hours to come up with a comprehensive search report.
2. Complete examination
a. First office action should cover all patentability requirements, including clear language of all the claims; no piecemeal approach.
b. Ensure that members of the examining division spend sufficient time together for every application to discuss the proposal of the entrusted examiner. Dto. in opposition.
c. Allocate a sufficient time budget to make sure that 3 pairs of eyes principle of examining division is working properly again.
d. Analyze decisions by boards of appeal and opposition divisions to identify potential shortcomings in search and examination and develop countermeasures where possible.
3. User feedback
Introduction on an easy-to-use, anonymous user feedback system for each office action (NPS or smiley approach).
a. Continuous and trackable external training of examiners in latest state of the art e.g., by research institutes, universities, or industries.
b. Trackable training of examiners e.g., every 5 year on importance of patents in industry.
5. Make incentive system for examiners transparent.
It is our ambition to make sure that patent quality in Europe and through the EPO is the highest in the world. To reach this goal we are not only prepared to constructively collaborate with the EPO, but we also think that the working environment for the examiners must be such that they are able to deliver best in-depth search and examination to the benefit of society, industry and Europa.
Regarding the further proceeding, we suggest splitting the above topics into the four working groups (1) Search, (2) Examination, (3) Training, and (4) User feedback and Incentive System. We would be grateful if you could indicate suitable representatives of the EPO to set-up joint working groups for these topics. We would be happy to organize and host corresponding workshops over the next months. (…)’
At a roundtable December last year with around 70 members, the Industry Patent Quality Charter criticized the EPO for failing to engage with their concerns, as Managing IP reported, It was only after this meeting that the EPO ‘agreed to meet with a group of in-house counsel at major corporations to discuss concerns over the quality of patents granted by the office’.
Members of the Industry Patent Quality Charter are companies such as Procter & Gamble, Ericcson, Syngenta, Siemens, HP, Volvo, Roche, Qualcomm, Vodafone, ATOs, Bayer and Deutsche Telekom. The IPQC was created in October last year. ‘One of the main objectives is to enter into a continuous dialogue with patent offices. In particular the European Patent Office since the EPO´s understanding of patent quality is mainly self-driven and the recent measures mainly served internal optimization purposes.’
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In view of the massive criticism uttered by the IPQC, the patent quality charter of the EPO can only elicit a weary smile:
If everything announced in this document would correspond to the reality, the IPQC would not come with its very pointed proposals.
It is manifest that the IPQC is not satisfied with the quality discussions in SACEPO. If this would be the case, their proposals would be redundant.
That the quality of the work delivered by the EPO is going down does not come as a surprise. One has just to look regularly at decisions published by the BA.
The number of patents revoked is higher than the number of patents maintained in amended form. The number of rejections of oppositions is much lesser than the number of patents maintained or revoked. In the early days of the EPO, the proportion was for each category 1/3, 1/3, 1/3. Nowadays it is more 40% maintenance, 45% revocation and 15% rejection.
When the opponent brings novelty destroying patent literature and the search report mentions a lot of documents of the category X or A, it is difficult to claim that the search was optimal.
The same applies when the opponent brings forward prior art under Art 54(3), sometimes from the patentee itself. The number of cases in which an opposition is decided on the basis of documents which were not available in the search files (public prior use, PhD dissertations, catalogues etc.) is very low.
The number of cases where the opposition is rejected or the patent maintained in amended form and the patent is revoked at the end of the appeal procedure is dangerously increasing.
In the early days of the EPO, the search was comprehensive and the examination as well. There was no piecemeal approach. Examiners had time to do their work properly. Nowadays quality at the EPO resumes itself to timeliness.
Looking at substantial procedural violations reveals that the two other members of the division, be it examination or opposition, often simply sign what has been proposed by the first examiner.
How do you want to ensure that members of the examining/opposition divisions spend sufficient time together for every application/opposition to discuss the proposal of the entrusted examiner when the examiners are discouraged to come into the buildings of the EPO? The action started by upper management called “Bring teams together” has the opposite effect in spite of the name.
How do you want to have a proper training when the initial training has been reduced to two years due to the 5 years contracts offered to examiners? How do you want to ensure continuous training when examiners only get a permanent job after two 5 years periods? As the examiners can be easily be fired for incompetence, which is not achieving ludicrous ever increasing targets, why should the EPO spend money on continuous training?
When you read the quality report of the EPO sent to the AC, it is full of very verbose prose which try to hide reality. The AC appears gullible, the IPQC is not.
How do you want examiners to really have a common view, when OP are only held in form of ViCo and the members of the divisions can sit at different places?
By the way, what is the legal basis in the EPC allowing members of the deciding bodies, divisions of first instance or boards of appeal, to sit in different places during oral proceedings? I could not find one in the EPC.
The problem lies not only with the upper management of the EPO, it is also with the Administrative Council which nowadays simply rubber stamps the desiderata and wishes of the 10th floor.
Just two examples:
The boards of appeal have been sent at a high cost to Haar a few years ago. Now they will come back to one of the buildings next to the Main Station. If the AC would carry out his job of controlling the office such a waste of money would not be approved.
The AC has accepted that examiners from national offices can come and work at the EPO. What is the legal basis for this? No delegation to the AC could give an answer.
Should the trend clearly discernible with oppositions translates in revocations or limitations of patents decided by the UPC, the big industry has to worry a lot. On the other hand the fees are there to clearly advantage patent holders.
It appears right to start at the source, i.e. at the EPO, and not continuously accept the soothing words about quality uttered on the 10th floor.
Maybe the IPQC would be interested to know that the pressure to reach more than 53K R71(3) communications before the end of May has gotten so high on line managers that they now routinely resort to instructing examiners not to spend more than a certain amount of hours on a search or examination action. Individual production is monitored on a bi-weekly basis at least. Time off work is discouraged. In the last weeks examiners are being put under immense pressure to grant everything they can and put non-grants on hold in order to “overachieve “ the COO’s instructions. TM’s are clearly incentivised to reach these targets as their bonuses and grade and career advancements are made contingent on these being attained.
In the most complex technical fields that routinely took 2.6 days per product (that’s the internal language for a final action in search or examination) in the last few years, it has been decided by management that they cannot be more than twice as slow as the fastest technical fields that currently require 1.1 days per product on average. In 2023 no team is allowed to be slower than 2.2 days per product. How an increase of 20% in speed for large swathes of the office (mainly in CII !) can lead to an increase in quality baffles the mind.
Above average is the new normal.
Examiners are being pressured to ignore non-important aspects such as non-essential clarity (whatever that is) or minor Art 123(2) objections (the applicant is responsible for the text) in order to further speed up the process.
The internal narrative is that most applicants never litigate anyway and that the scope of granted patents will thus mostly never be put up to the test. Because the number of filed oppositions is stable enough, management is satisfied that everything is fine.
As always examiners are petrified of speaking up. Most are resigned and follow whatever instructions come from above in order to be left alone, hoping that they’ll make a better chance at maintaining their already diminished career perspectives at the cost of the future of the patent office and patent system.
Did I mention that sick leave is at an all-time high?
I have the strong impression (almost certainty, I would say) that more and more examiners concentrate only on very formal aspects like description, unfounded non-clarity issues or lack of a literal basis for amendments, and not on the real substance of the applications. But not all of them, so I wonder whether the statistics above apply uniformly across the whole population of examiners, and I personally think this is not the case because I see a pretty fixed pattern examiners-behaviours (and these “bad” behaviours come more often from people longer at the EPO, as far as I could meet them or notice the names). Sorry for telling this but you should also enquire your self or some of your colleagues before looking for causes somewhere else, we all have time and personnel issues but these must impact the least on our way of working, it is a matter of professionalism. And, again, I am convinced that your work conditions are surely not worse than ours, in spite of your recent changes: as an example, the flexibility after the pandemic that took some office space or the possibility to meet in person during hearings, as I understood, gives you the freedom to work at any time or day of the week from wherever you want (with some minimal limitations), this would everywhere else be considered to surpass the downsides, but apparently not for you. And don’t start now with the usual expat stories, we all had to change city or country and most of you are from the country of employment or were already there before joining the EPO. Or asking why I am not applying at the EPO, because I could say the same about you if you are so unhappy there. Perhaps your management is really incompetent or pursues sometime interests other than the ones of their staff (also not to generalise though, exactly like for you examiners, and in any case I would not be so surprised in such a large semi-public organisation which on top has to balance the books at the end), but I have the impression that many examiners dont pursue the interest of the EPO either which is also quite serious, a typical attitude for me of an employee who works as a sort of permanent judge and has time to battle against any potentially negative work change. Again, some examiners (less and less, but still not so few) are, on the contrary, exemplary but I dont think that the attitude I am reading in these comments goes in the direction of reversing this trend. Seeing the incompetency of your managers or, in some cases, even their uselessness does not give you the permission to lower your commitment or the quality of your work which to my opinion would not by magic surge if you get less actions to do in the year, because I am not sure at all that this additional time would end up in working time (maybe yes for the “good” examiners whose quality is already high, but not in the case of the “problematic” examiners). What should be done at the EPO is to have people who dont see the EPO or the applicants as “enemies”, but see them at least at the same level of the “public”, this can be done by recruiting (I see more and more people who should soon retire) and changing the “philosophy” of many examiners, which is very difficult at the EPO and the management does not seem to be up to it.
“Perhaps your management is really incompetent or pursues sometime interests other than the ones of their staff”
Well, delete the word “sometime” and I might agree with you. There is ample evidence: consider, for example, the judgements of the ILO AT on breaches of fundamental rights, as well as the wildly inaccurate (and completely unjustifiable) assumptions in the 2019 “financial study” that the EPO has used as an excuse to suppress staff wages and benefits whilst simultaneously squirreling away large surpluses each year.
By the way, I would encourage you to reflect on how “quality” at the EPO has evolved over the years. My experience is that, since the last decade, it has been on a steep decline. If there is any truth to comments from individuals such as “Concerned Whistleblower”, it is easy to see how the actions and policies of the EPO’s management could be directly responsible for that decline in quality. So why are you so keen to pin the problems on “bad” examiners?
@ Law Sniffer
Already in your comment of Feb 4th in the post “EPO consultation on EPC and PCT-EPO Guidelines” you showed very little understanding for examiners at the EPO. You continue here.
You do not seem to have realised that the examiners are playing with the system exactly in the same way that the system plays with them.
Who could blame them. besides some people with very specific gripes, for whatever reason.
Examiners are as much aware about the interest of the EPO as the upper management does. Work changes are normal. What is happening at the EPO is a kind of Echternach’s procession: three steps forward and two steps backwards. For every improvement there is a high price to pay. This is wearing to say the least.
When for instance, you are constantly told that new IT tools warrant as such an increase in production although they do not work as they should, is simply denying people any right to defend themselves. The situation is worse for formalities officers.
When you get instructions, and this is not a recent occurrence, to limit the time spent for searching and go to grant as quickly as possible it shows the incompetence and uselessness of the “managers”. It is nothing new that decisions are taken by people who do not have the faintest idea of what the work consists of. That this cannot be without any consequences is pretty manifest.
It is the management that forces staff to deliver a Smart when users of the system are paying for a Rolls.
Not the other way round. It is thus not a surprise that only few examiners can cope, but this is not a reason to bash on the other.
In view of the situation you have every right to be dissatisfied, but it is not by hacking on those at the bottom line who are actually carrying out the work That big users of the system now officially complain about the quality delivered by the EPO should give you food for thoughts and not simply bash on examiners. Big users are not any longer gullible to what the upper EPO management repeats like a Tibetan praying mill turning in the wind: our quality is excellent and our users are satisfied.
Where do you know that most of the examiners are from the country of employment or were already there before joining the EPO? This should actually alarm you as the mix of nationalities present in the early days is dwindling.
In view of the conditions presently offered, people with professional experience and a family are not inclined to seek a job at the EPO when they have to sever every link with their national social care system and pension scheme. By recruiting people more or less directly from university it is no surprise that they do think that the grass is greener on the other side. But recruitment is a management policy. Do not blame the people recruited.
The EPO is having difficulties in recruiting. A good scientist or engineer with a good knowledge of foreign languages does find other opportunities than to work for the EPO. And on top of this the training has been reduced by a third.
Experienced examiners are leaving the EPO as soon as they can afford it. Lots of excellent trainers are hence missing.
You have here some examples of the fundamental problems which necessarily have a negative influence on quality.
Complain at the right place, but stop bashing examiners.
Excuse me but it seems to me that you want EPO examiners to be very smart when they search and examine applications, and completely stupid when they think about what is in their interest. You want them to know and to care about what happens outside, and to be deaf, blind and dumb about what happens in the EPO buildings. Turns out that examiners are not stupid. They adapt to their work environment. They follow the orders they’re given. And the examples they’re given too.
In 2022 EP grants were down 40% from 2020, approximately 1000 grants per week. Steady growth combined with a slow down in prosecution result in a growing backlog of pending files. How long can the EPS handle this? 50k files per year!
EP quality, labor disputes at the EPO, introduction of UP/UPC are under constant fire from one interest group or another, but if you cannot process files at a rate similar to that of entry, you’ve got a problem.
The EPO needs maintainable resources to handle existing and new files, structured for growth. Once the resources are in place, quality related objectives can be redefined or fine tuned. Trying to do this the other way around may require more time than the system can support.
And there are no real options as most European national PTOs do not have the manpower to handle additional volume directly.
Dear law sniffer,
I’m terribly sorry that you’ve had to endure so many bad experiences with examiners in particular and the EPO in general. Most of my colleagues try to do right by the public and the applicants irrespective of management’s unreasonable constraints. They are truly putting themselves at the service of public and applicants. But I have to acknowledge that we also have bad apples. An organization with 4000+ examiners cannot avoid this. It is management’s task to weed the bad apples out. But they don’t as most bad apples produces many many products. Instead they ask everyone to aspire to produce as much as the high producing bad apples.
Make no mistake, being given more flexibility to work from home is great. No one complains about that. But that does make the work plan more realistic. Nor does it mean that we should be working 60 hours a week in return. Most examiners are going the extra mile and doing an honest work. But for how long can they continue to abide by their professional standards without support or recognition?
What I can tell you from my own decade+ in this environment is this:
1) The “better” examiners more concerned with the applicant, the substantial matter and the public service are overrepresented in “slow” technical fields. Correlation? Yes! Causation? Maybe not entirely, there are many professional and dedicated examiners in the fastest fields, but for the most part: yes! Reading takes time. Honest feature mapping takes time. Writing detailed opinions takes time. If you need to do all that and the formal aspects for 15-30 claims with 3/4 prior art documents of 20 pages in less than day you’ll frequently run into trouble. Many examiners are therefore tempted to take the easy route and only adress the most obvious issues superficially. That’s human. But it is encouraged by internal performance metrics and 10% yearly target increases. Even if most people work more than 40hours a week and even more so since the flexible home working arrangements, at some point many realise that they can get away with crappy work in 40hours instead of good work in 50 or 60. Not everyone can be expected to be infallibly dedicated to the cause and put in ever increasing hours. Yes I’m sure you work more hours, but we joined the examiner side precisely because we did not want the 24/7 80 hour workweek of attorneys. (By the way, how does it work on your side? Do you have targets and priorities? Who decides on your objectives? Honestly I’m curious to know how it works for you. )
2) There is a huge gap between Munich and The Hague. This dichotomy has always existed since the BEST times. It has however significantly grown in the last 5 years as the sites and technical fields have been de facto split in such a way that no effective substantial or procedural cross site communication between examiners exists anymore. No wonder that our sites diverge ever more in practice and apply different standards for quality or inventive step. This is a pity as it creates added frustration and a feeling of arbitrariness of the decisions by the EPO.
3)Please bear in mind that pushing examiners like crazy over many years, as has been the case especially these last 5 years, will result in more burnouts and lesser quality in the long run. Already now burnouts are the number 1 cause of sick leave.
Don’t get me wrong we have to do our part in delivering pertinent and qualitative opinions and products. But the working environment must provide the necessary conditions for this. Constant management by fear and ever increasing targets cannot work out in the long run. Especially when there are no career prospects and no (human) recognition of the efforts. And everyone (on a permanent contract) is in for the long run. At some point everyone reaches their limit and just doesn’t care anymore.
You might be wary to wish for more temporary 5 year contracts. I cannot see any path to increased work ethic with respect to substantial quality and pertinence in an organization mainly staffed with temporary contracts. They’ll do the numbers, but will they care about the quality ? After all they won’t depend on the continued success of the organization for the rest of their career or retirement!
4) The AC wants more grants. The President wants less staff to reduce liabilities and costs. Both are fair and reasonable business goals. But, how can working towards both objectives in parallel work out fine for substantive quality? We’re only replacing 80% of examiners , yet our long term plan sets out stable or increasing amount of products. Is this sustainable?
Oh, did I mention that the share of non-producing overhead staff (everyone but those dealing with the patent grant process directly) has doubled in the last decade?
Dear Concerned Whistleblower,
I can only support what you have said.
It was a political decision of the then VP1 to consider that Munich and The Hague were on a par. He was a former search examiner in the predecessor of DG1, the Institut International des Brevets. He has never been confronted with examination. He even considered examination as a useless play with words. In spite of being debatable as such, searches should be as comprehensive and correct as possible. This is not the case anymore, and for a long time.
Everybody knew that The Hague and Munich were not aligned and that there were big discrepancies. They have not diminished with time. In the early days of BEST, there were real exchanges between the two sites, but in view of the costs and time involved this was quickly put to an end. Sadly.
It is also easier to go from examination to search than the other way round. The upper management, not even necessarily the president at the time, never accepted that during training examiners should have dealt first with examination rather than to start with search. Once you know how to examine you are better geared for searching, especially when the search is nowadays purely electronic.
Examiners in the first year only learn how to churn out a maximum of searches with an opinion and that is everything. They should bring about 80% as many searches as experienced examiners. As they do not have to deal with replies immediately, they can produce more searches. As such this is not wrong, but the support stops rather quickly after the first year, now the whole training is two years.
When the replies come, then the problem starts. Inducing examiners to quickly grant easy files does not improve the situation as it means that difficult files will be left in the cupboard and will not disappear. The hope of the management is that after a few years the applicant loses interest in the application and withdraws it directly or indirectly.
Do not forget that a few years ago the upper management came with the idea of postponed examination as it was known in The Netherlands or Germany. The reply of the users was loud and clear and the idea was quickly dropped.
This shows that lots of decisions at the EPO are taken by people who do not have the faintest idea what the work consists of, but have authoritative and peremptory views on these subjects!
From day one, there has always been a big administrative overhead at the EPO. It is not completely wrong in view of the overall duties of the office, but the EPO resembles more and more to a Mexican Army with lots of generals but less soldiers actually bringing the money in.
The career possibilities for examiners, for instance becoming directors have been severely curtailed. Directors are now in charge of dozens of examiners and an intermediate level, team managers, has been introduced. One can wonder what directors and principal directors in DG1 are actually doing all day.
According to the documents of the “Interim Committee” which was set up after the signature of the EPC, a director should have been in charge of 12 examiners. It was considered that this figure would allow a director to properly help and guide his examiners. 12 might have been too little, but if a director want to correctly do his job 30 examiners are an upper limit. Nowadays team managers, which nevertheless stay examiners, do the work previously devolved to directors.
The only possibility to evolve for an examiner is to end at the boards of appeal. However, the upper management has introduced two classes of examiners. Those dealing with oppositions and those who do not. It simply costs too much if all examiners are trained in opposition. That oppositions are not filed in all IPC classes is not an excuse. Dealing with oppositions is part of the general culture of an examiner.
When an examiner wants to join the boards of appeal, he is invited to present decisions he has for a large part written himself. If he is not examiner in a specialised opposition directorate, he will never write a decision and the only possibility left to climb the ladder is closed. Encouraging isn’t it?
The number of directors in parts other than search/examination/opposition has skyrocketed. And you wonder why examiners are desperate? Being hired on a 5 year contract is also not encouraging and for fear of being fired, those poor people will do what they are told.
On a par with an appalling system of complaints with no real possibility of redress (the ILO-AT is actually useless and only acts in flagrant cases or when the rules have not been followed), why should one wonder at what is happening at the EPO for the last 10 years?
Oh well, didn’t this all start years ago with the EPO(nian) slogan “Timeliness is quality”? The strange ‘reality’ where being faster would somehow equal a higher examination quality.
Now that DG1 is on permanent homeworking, communication wihtin the Divisions has, according to my information, mostly deteriorated. As sad state of affairs, as well-functioning Divisions is one of the cornerstones of EPO quality.
Anyway, hope that the EPO hears the IPQC message!
Nowadays the bigger threat to patent quality at the EPO are the new illogical, dangerous and unfounded requests to amend the description, which of course are not the fault of the examiners.
Having one page of objections of inventive step and several pages of requests to amend the description make applicant want to file national instead of using the EPO.
What a nightmare!
I was waiting for the old rant about amending the description vs amended claims.
As long as the boards will remit to the OD in order to adapt the description to the maintained claims, the same will happen in examination. And rightly so. The three decisions to the contrary weigh little in this respect.
The problems brought forward by the IPQC are much more serious and represent a real threat for the EPO and its reputation.
If the search is not carried out properly, any examination as good as it might be will not improve matters.
When examiners do not have time to properly carry out their searches and raise well reasoned objections, don’t be surprised that many will fill their communications with for you strange stuff and care more about the appearance than the substance.
Remember that too many direct grants are suspicious. So throw in the odd X even if they are not real X documents, spice your search report with a few Y documents and just ramble about all this. If the applicant replies and say “boooh” the grant is there and everything is honky dory.
What will you do before a court when it turns out that your patent is not worth the paper it is printed on?
The description even not adapted to amended claims will not help very much!
-Provide examiners with a sufficient amount of hours to search…
-Ensure that members of the examining division spend sufficient time…
-Allocate a sufficient time budget to make sure that…
-Continuous and trackable external training of examiners…
– reduced search time every year
– cut examination time every year
– members of division have now zero time to discuss anything
– deleted all technical training
Examiners kept protesting about this nightmare since Battistelli’s era. Nobody could care less.
This is the obvious end result.
I am retired since last June. Never took a better decision in my life.
Enjoy the EPO!
It’s about to get worse too. Business methods and software patents will see an unprecedented rise in granted applications in the coming 12 months. Examiners are being blocked from sending summons and being told to issue a further written opinion. But examiners can’t reach their targets this way, and their only solution is more grants.
The management bonus structure is directly linked to the number of issued patents!
It is clear to me that there is a problem, but I am not entirely sure what aspect the IPQC wants the EPO to address in priority.
The EPO management seems to think that the main concern of the industry is consistency and efficiency of the examination procedure. Basically: find all relevant documents at search stage, raise all objections in the first communication (also at search stage) and, ideally, point at a way to solve the objections (please note that this approach ignores that some applications are poorly drafted and it is not always obvious at first to find out what is the actual invention to be searched and examined). If this is what the IPQC want, the EPO management is set to deliver, therefore it is probably not their main concern.
Another aspect is, basically, what applications the EPO should reject. That is what the layperson would normally understand by “quality of patents”, but may not be what the EPO management wants. Does the IPQC want the examination criteria to be tightened so that more applications are rejected or their claims considerably limited? If this is what they want, they should clearly say what tighter criteria the EPO should apply.
As to the aspects of pressure put on examiners, etc… Sorry to point the obvious, but the figures for the EPO budget are readily available so the IPQC can check them if they want. They can also inquire about the budget for technical training and insist to get figures that separate training in the industry or universities and training for new tools (which is necessary, since the EPO changed all the search tools) or the fire safety exercises, etc…
Another thought on the subject.
First, independent studies show that the level of stress amongst the examiners is very high. From this results, we know that they are already under strong pressure at work. Examiners work hard, at least most of them.
Second, the IPQC requests more work. If examination and search are to be done by 3 persons independently, it will roughly take 3 times the work, for example. Regular courses also take time.
Third, under the present system, examiners get no deductions of time. Examiners get an objective, a number of “products” at the beginning of the year and will be noted on how they achieve it. When they are sent to a course or are instructed to discuss a case with other members (and to document that in writing), the objective does not change. They have to somehow find the time. Courses and new procedures are supposed to be “cost neutral”, meaning at the end of the year the EPO has the same number of staff and the same number of patents.
The IPQC requests regular technical training, for example. That is indeed a very good idea, but they should also request that the EPO hires more people or be prepared that the EPO examines less patents. The other option is simply that the examiners have less time for examination and that will not improve quality.
The EPO has surpluses which could be invested in hiring more examiners, for example. But the effects will only be felt after they are trained.
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