There is a new strategy at the European Patent Office. Last week António Campinos delivered what many had expected in his ambitious plan for the future. But the discontented at the EPO and in the wider European patent world are not so easily placated. A new vision would require the new president to take specific measures - and the speedy resolution of internal conflicts is a good place to start.
3 July 2019 by Mathieu Klos
Imagine going to one of the best restaurants in the world, for a relaxed evening where your palate can savour every ingredient. But instead, the courses are served in quick succession. The dishes disappoint. Squeezing in a second sitting of diners means the quality is sacrificed.
It is a similar story at the European Patent Office. It claims to be one of the best patent offices in the world. In its kitchen, however, the chefs are cooking faster than ever before – too fast, say many patent attorneys.
Since former president Benoît Battistelli’s tenure, efficiency has been the top priority in the granting of patents. Quality has been neglected as a result, claim some users, with patents not being examined closely enough. Furthermore, the bleak mood Batistelli caused at the EPO is infamous. It has not yet fully lifted.
President António Campinos is now exactly one year in office. Last week he presented his new 2023 Strategic Plan, to pave the way for a new, better future at the EPO.
Campinos emphasises the five key objectives that should help the EPO strategy and achieve outstanding performance in the future. His strategy focuses on employee management, a modern IT infrastructure, high-quality products and services, and a sustainable European patent network. The new management intends to implement this with several key initiatives by 2023.
Companies and IP firms in the European patent community have taken note of the strategy. But nobody seems to think it is a real coup.
In recent days, numerous discussions between JUVE Patent and representatives from in-house IP departments and law firms have emphasised that the EPO strategy is going in the right direction.
Many note that Campinos is striving for a more conciliatory tone and has shown himself open to suggestions in many conversations. But now representatives want to see the new president take action. Up to now, they say, nothing has actually happened.
According to a Munich patent attorney, the lack of action needs to change. Many similar opinions were expressed to JUVE Patent. A multitude of problems confront the EPO and, internally, the general mood is still poor. Representatives of the Administrative Council say the same.
Moreover, the quality of the patents has come under heavy criticism. An outdated IT system persists. The number of applicants to the EPO is declining.
Campinos wants to get a grip on all of this. Internally it is said he admitted that his plan is ambitious, and he is said to have called for a whole new era for the office. The EPO president could make a start by quickly resolving the internal conflicts and relieving the pressure on his employees. This would be the key to solving other problems as well, such as the decline in the number of applicants or the discussion about quality.
In the past, in-house IP experts were concerned about the disputes between Battistelli’s management and parts of the workforce. That dissatisfied employees were more likely to deliver a poor-quality service was a concern of many in the industry.
To change this, Campinos needs to make a clean break with the Battistelli era and quickly settle the dispute with the influential SUEPO Union. Former SUEPO staff members are still subject to disciplinary proceedings. Ending this once and for all would be a political sign of real change.
Campinos also needs a clear list of priorities. The quality of patents granted is a concern for many users. Campinos wants to address this, but in his EPO strategy he has yet to define what quality in granting patents really means. Looking carefully at the internal minutes and public documents from last year, however, it seems that speed is still seen as an important criterion for quality in Munich.
A patent attorney openly asks, “What is meant by the ‘common definition of quality agreed with users’ that is mentioned in the strategy paper? Up to now all I’ve heard from the office are buzzwords such as ‘efficiency’ and ‘quick granting.'”
The development of an effective European patent network and modern IT system are challenges that will be addressed later. At the Administrative Council meeting in Munich last week, Campinos announced measures for the autumn.
Nevertheless, Campinos holds an important trump card in that almost all EPO users who spoke to JUVE Patent consider him to be the right man for the job. They trust Campinos to make the necessary changes, restore a sense of calm in the office, and return the EPO to its status as a quality-driven authority.
Now Campinos must quickly find the right ingredients and serve them in the right order. It is not unlike the latest trend in top restaurants. In an open kitchen there is transparency in the chefs’ actions; there is no room for bad behaviour, bullying or cutting corners. This is essentially what the EPO’s customers want.
A pleasant atmosphere and memorable experience is expected at the EPO, not dissimilar to a Michelin-star restaurant. Quality service – and a coherent EPO strategy – would be the icing on the cake.