The European Patent Office has formulated a new vision for the next five years. A new EPO strategy was adopted by the office's 38 member states yesterday during the latest meeting of the Administrative Council. The strategy of President António Campinos has five goals: Empowering staff, modernising IT, improving quality, enhancing co-operation and securing sustainability.
27 June 2019 by Mathieu Klos
Twelve months after taking over the office of EPO President from his controversial predecessor Benoît Battistelli, António Campinos has presented his strategic plan to the Administrative Council. The controlling body of the Patent Office, in which the 38 member states of the European Patent Convention are represented, unanimously adopted Campinos’ strategy, according to an EPO press release.
This was preceded by a public consultation in which the users of the patent office, employees and the national patent offices gave their opinions on the current state of the EPO and suggestions for its future strategy. Such public surveys are common for larger projects of the office.
The new strategy is designed to help the EPO to “excel in its role as one of the world’s foremost intellectual property offices”. Campinos’ five-step plan focuses on five main areas.
According to the office’s press release, Campinos’ first goal is to “build an engaged, knowledgeable and collaborative organisation”. The plan looks at several areas that it claims will assist staff in their professional development. As well as staff retention, the EPO will “continue to identify, attract and recruit talent in key areas”.
Secondly, Campinos wants to modernise and simplify the EPO’s IT systems. His plans include a single tool to support an end-to-end electronic patent granting process. “In response to rising volumes of patent literature worldwide and the growing technical complexity of inventions, the EPO will continue to invest in prior art databases, with a special focus on Asian documentation and standards,” the office states.
Delivering high quality products and services efficiently is seen as the most important topic in the plan for the industry and its advisors.
It was precisely in this area where the EPO had been confronted with huge levels of criticism. The EPO now wants to “provide for a number of new initiatives that aim to secure the recognised high standard of EPO products and services.” Particular emphasis is placed on a user-agreed definition of quality, as well as providing for more flexibility in the process of granting patents.
“Building a European patent system and network with a global impact” is goal number four: improving co-operation with national patent offices and other international partners is to be reinforced. Last but not least the report addresses the issue of sustainability. This includes the establishment of “an Observatory, a platform that will bring together public and private stakeholders to discuss and debate developments in innovation.”
Environmental issues also play a role. Campinos’ plan sets targets for lowering energy and paper consumption, eliminating plastics, and reducing its carbon footprint.
“This strategic plan is a clear vision of how we want our office to look in the future, and how we plan to achieve it,” said Campinos. “What we have now is a roadmap for achieving a more sustainable patent office for Europe, better equipped to succeed in an evolving IP landscape.”
Campinos adds, “We intend to be a more adaptable and agile organisation that can support inventors everywhere with improved and more responsive services. This may be ambitious, but with the commitment and expertise of our staff, we also believe that it is achievable.”
The EPO plans to implement the initiatives over the next four years, although some projects will be extended over years beyond that.
The strategic plan was eagerly anticipated by the European patent community. After the end of the Battistelli era, many wondered whether Campinos would continue the line of his predecessor. Above all, the strong focus on efficiency and increased productivity under Battistelli was controversial. Stakeholders complained that the desire for high productivity has led to problems in patent examinations, and thus to poorer quality.
In the summer 2018 the four law firms Grünecker, Hoffmann Eitle, Maiwald, and Vossius & Partner adressed this concern in an open letter to Battistelli and his then designated successor Campinos. They criticised the patent examiners for having too little time for the individual applications, and stated that EPO fees are too high in international comparison.
At the same time Battistelli’s actions had led to a deep distrust among EPO staff, something that prevails even under Campinos. Some see the reason for this as being his decision to retain most of his predecessor’s management staff.
The appointment of three new members of the management committee earlier this year gave a boost to the hope for an improvement in the situation. This, however, was not shared by many staff members. While the EPO management adheres to the efficiency strategy, they argue, an improvement in workload and hence in the quality of patents granted, would not be possible.
The office is also facing a reform of its pension fund and the IT system is seen as being in urgent need of reform. (Co-author: Konstanze Richter)