The Central Staff Committee of the European Patent Office supports the initiative of important European companies who’ve requested to do something about declining patent quality at the EPO. In a publication, the committee wrote it ‘is ready to contribute actively and constructively (…) respond to external criticism and put quality back on the EPO’s agenda’.
The members of this so-called Industry Patent Quality Charter (IPQC, including ATOS, Bayer, Deutsche Telekom, Drägerwerk AG & Co. KGaA, Ericsson, Eraeus, HP, Iveco Group N.V., MTU, Nokia, Physik Instrumente (PI) GmbH & Co. KG, Procter&Gamble, Qualcomm, Roche, Siemens AG, Siemens Healthineers, Syngenta, Vodafone, Volvo) sent a letter to the EPO last month after a meeting with the management, in which they stated: ‘we feel that the search and examination quality of the EPO decreased in the last years’ and presented requests ‘that we would like to elaborate in detail with you in a further constructive dialogue’. These concerned the following topics (explained here in more detail):
- Complete searches
- Complete examination
- User feedback
- Make incentive system for examiners transparent
The IPQC suggested to the EPO: ‘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. (…)’
In its publication ‘Patent Quality – Can it be put back on the EPO’s agenda?’ the Central Staff Committee has endorsed the initiative:
‘Staff Representation has been critical of management’s approach to quality for many years and has denounced the deleterious effects on substantive quality of the “New Career System” (NCS) introduced in 2015 which incentivises examiners to focus on their work as first examiner and in this role to issue as many search reports and grant as many patents as possible, with substantive quality being secondary to productivity and timeliness. (…)
The Office is in denial
In the face of the converging signals of deteriorating quality, how can management continue to pretend that everything is fine. (…) In his New Year’s greetings to staff, Mr Campinos referred to what he sees as general positive feedback from 6000 EPO users and said that “[q]uality is the appraisal of the many – and not the discontent of the few”. In other words, the President considers that complaints from the public or users about the quality of EPO patents − which undoubtedly include IPQC members − can be downplayed if not ignored. (…)
Which future for (substantive) quality?
Under the topics of “Complete Searches” and “Complete Examination”, the IPQC members stress the need to give examiners sufficient time (budget) to carry out their tasks. (…)
The recruitment policies need to be reconsidered, especially the decision not to recruit formalities officers and to replace only 80% of leaving examiners, despite a steady rise in the workload and a predictable wave of retirements of highly experienced staff in the coming years. (…)
Hopefully the IPQC initiative will trigger an adequate reaction that goes beyond denial, window dressing and continuing to hope that progress in IT tools will solve the problems. In addition to an IT strategy that needs to be revised, internal appreciation of the EPO’s own personnel and appropriate HR policies are key aspects of a reorientation toward more quality. It is not yet clear whether the IPQC initiative from outside the EPO will achieve what could not be achieved internally: to put patent quality back at the top of the agenda. The Staff Committee will report on the progress made (or lack thereof) in the coming weeks.’
Whether progress has actually been made is not entirely clear, but last Friday, the website Managing IP reported ‘it is understood the EPO has offered a follow-up meeting’ with the IPQC.
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A follow-up meeting is all very well, but what purpose might it serve if the EPO continues to insist that there is no problem with quality?
How about some constructive proposals from the EPO, to address points raised by those involved in IPQC? If past is prologue, then there is precisely zero chance of this happening … and far more likely the EPO will invite feedback that it then proceeds to ignore entirely.
“IPQC, including ATOS, Bayer, Deutsche Telekom, Drägerwerk AG & Co. KGaA, Ericsson, Eraeus, HP, Iveco Group N.V., MTU, Nokia, Physik Instrumente (PI) GmbH & Co. KG, Procter&Gamble, Qualcomm, Roche, Siemens AG, Siemens Healthineers, Syngenta, Vodafone, Volvo”
SMEs not found.
@Augustin: How many SMEs would you like to see as signatory of the IPQC in order for you to consider this intiative as supported by SMEs ?
One should rather have a look at the contradictions of the EPO. The EPO has close contacts with major applicants and sometimes the buzzword “Key Account Manager” is used to designate those in charge of a specific major applicant. But when suddenly major applicants complain about decreasing quality, these ones are considered as being a minority.
I wish good luck to the IPQC in trying to get a meeting and to have a constructive one. Right now, Campinos, VP1 and VP4 attend team meetings in which they say, ‘We are the Gold Standard. We cannot please everyone.” Denial at his best.
If that second meeting ever takes place, no doubt the EPO will send a delegation of clueless managers to discuss with the IPQC. The same ones who are responsible for decreasing quality over a decade and have hardly ever touched a patent application.
Augustin, how can that make the comments of IQPC any less valuable?
I am looking forward to having the opportunity to give my feedback on office actions, especially of some arrogant experienced examiners who have no idea of the essence of the EPC, hopefully we are then protected from retaliation. Honestly, many examiners are already complete at any stage of the procedure, while others look always for short cuts with the only aim of harming the applicants and the EPO, this is the real problem, general actions are not needed, but only targeted measures for some of the examiners, such differences among examiners are intolerable and have nothing to do with too little training or too high employee efficiency
As the upper management of the EPO has explained to the AC that quality is at its best and can only get better when following the Quality Charter issued in October 2022, it cannot, without losing face, but deny the reality presented by IPQC.
If what is laid down in said quality charter would actually have been carried out faithfully, we would not have the IPQC complaining.
For once, it is good that large applicants complain. SMEs would not have the time and the money to come up with such an analysis and proposals.
What does not fit in the beliefs of the 10th floor and of the AC, cannot be an accurate picture of the reality imagined by all those having no clue about the work, but with strong opinions as how it should be done.
The whole system, starting with the recruitment difficulties, the lack of proper training the constant increases in production and the loss of experienced examiners sick of being ill-treated can only produce the results shown by the IPQC.
Even if some large countries will show their discontent with what is going on at the EPO in the AC, there are enough small countries which know how to vote if they do not want to see their cooperation budget curtailed.
As long as the AC is not doing it’s job to control the office, users of the system will not achieve anything even if they are able to show that there is something fundamentally wrong with the quality of the products delivered by the EPO.
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