For the half-year to 31 December 2014, the IPKat's regular team is supplemented by contributions from guest bloggers Rebecca Gulbul, Lucas Michels and Marie-Andrée Weiss.

Regular round-ups of the previous week's blogposts are kindly compiled by Alberto Bellan.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Working for the EPO: an unexpected pleasure?

The IPKat rarely gets the chance to read anything in German, since most of his German friends have a command of the English that is second only to the Scots and way ahead of most of the rest of the world: it is therefore in English that they generally write to him. This is just as well, since this Kat in particular is not a gifted modern linguist. He does however love those long words which possess a gravity and a dignity which few other tongues can summon up. Sometimes he can even guess their meaning, as in the case of the word Interessenkonflikten, which he found in the first link included in the piece he reproduces below, a piece anonymously penned by an author who manifestly is not about to pick up a €4,000 bonus for doing his job.  What's all this about? Prepare to be astounded -- and read on:

Merpel doesn't see
why IP bloggers
don't also get a
bomus ...
"Readers who consider that footballers, politicians and celebrities are over-rewarded for their work, and that a redistribution of wealth is long overdue, may wish to consider this post in the Süddeutche Zeitung concerning a proposed bonus of €4,000 to all European Patent Office (EPO) members of staff.  In essence the President of the EPO has proposed a bonus to all EPO members of staff on the basis that, since the EPO had a positive operating result of about €89 million in 2011, he thought it would be fun to share some of this with the rest of the EPO's team.

Leaving aside minor questions such as:
* does a positive operating result of €89 million make up for a negative financial result of €464 million?

* could the increase in operating income be as much the result of increasing renewal fee income (up €42 million) as the result of staff efforts?

* is it appropriate for a public body to tie bonuses to financial income rather than to productivity increases?

* surely the users of the system should share in any bonus, since the operating surplus of the EPO is 100% due to the fees which those selfsame users pay?
there is the further and not insignificant question:
* in the current economic circumstances, is the making of such a bonus good politics?
SUEPO's logo: in urgent
need of a witty slogan?
Contrary to all expectation it appears that the EPO Staff Association (SUEPO) is creditably opposed to the bonus, out of concern for the independence of EPO staff and in particular because the bonus scheme might be thought to incentivise the allowance of dubious patents [the IPKat is not convinced that this is the case: he wonders whether dubious patents might be a more likely consequence of dubious examiners than an incentive-based pay differential.  Don't be silly, says, Merpel, everyone knows that dubious patents are exclusively caused by applicants]. From the outside, one might assume that it would incentivise doing nothing (generating all those lovely internal renewal fees in exchange for a cautious and concerned inertia). 
Whichever analysis one follows, it is refreshing that the report indicates that SUEPO does not appear to have the simplistic mindset that money in the pocket buys contentment. Whether it is playing a deeper political game is however open to question".
The IPKat wondered whether this might be some sort of practical joke at his expense, till he found that it was true.  He has many friends and correspondents at the EPO, many of whom are really fun, extremely erudite and frequently paranoid genuinely concerned about their ability to discharge onerous duties in difficult working conditions; he'd rather see them get a better salary than be treated to the doubtful benefits of the proposed bonus.

What do readers think?

18 comments:

patently said...

Well, there is of course the excellent precedent of the USPTO and its performance assessment system for examiners. I think the less said about that, the better.

If the EPO wants to reward its examiners for financial performance, then the message to examiners is clear:

- slow down, take your time. Longer prosecution times increase renewal fee income.
- keep raising petty objections, spin out the prosecution for those lovely renewal fees.
- be completely unreasonable on plurality of invention. Nothing helps the EPO coffers like divisional applications.
- don't get too antsy about novelty and inventive step, applicants go to Oral Proceedings for those and they are expensive.
- if you get the chance, refuse the application without warning. The appeal fee is not that high, but they will remit and then you can start again.
- if in doubt, grant. An opposition fee is waiting in the wings, ready to be paid.

Does any of that ring bells at all?

Anonymous said...

Bravo, Patently, you've clearly been there before!

Anonymous said...

I like the idea of the payment being reduced in proportion to the abount of absence from the office - an excellent idea for staff relations, punishing those who have been off sick for not pulling their weight

Stuart Fox said...


Poor Ikpat,
“most of his German friends have a command of the English that is second only to the Scots” – such wishful thinking disappeared some 67 years ago, didn’t it ?

Regardless – many inventors think Patent Offices try to make it hard for them and now we hear it’s the opposite (some even help with claims) - but only to garner fees and bonuses – really ? – and now someone has the audacity to write it – Gee – it takes some a long time to realise - shame !

Some countries have a patent registration system rather than an expensive, allegedly sham examination which even if resulting in a positive outcome they can’t afford to uphold anyway – some have suspicions + heard rumours – so many don’t bother - sad.

Sure – it’s not all like that but some think the current system is akin to the committee that set out to design a horse and ended up with a camel - is that conducive to innovation ? – Time for a re-think ?

Inventions improve life and create jobs.

Stuart Fox - inventor

Ron said...

The Steering Group minutes of May 2012 indicate that the UKIPO has been mooting a bonus scheme which, if not peanuts, seems to involve chocolate buttons!

7.6 The SB discussed how the IPO would celebrate these achievements and the NEDs highlighted the need to be as creative as possible to reward staff. All staff had been invited to a celebration on 20 June for the Queen’s Jubilee and 160 years of the IPO. The Office wide bonus was discussed and whether there was any scope to modify the scheme, which was limited. Reference was made to press coverage about the IPO having bought chocolate buttons. It was noted that the IPO should be prepared to be resilient in such instances.

Anonymous said...

This is so ingenious that it clearly merits a business method patent for a method of improving patent office productivity and profitability at the expedient expense of sound public policy.

However, the best mode might also require a super-bonus and promotion for any examiner who grants a patent that is finally declared to be invalid by the courts. Such an examiner has has not only created windfall revenue for the patent office but hundreds or even thousands of times as much revenue for the grateful lawyers involved in the litigation and their adoring children and grandchildren.

What could be finer?

Anonymous said...

It is amazing what you can find on the EPO server. Came across this today:

http://worldwide.espacenet.com/

Anyone have an idea what this information is meant to provide?

EdT

MaxDrei said...

Here, the EPO President, trying to placate a by now truculent examining force, looks horribly old-fashioned and out of touch with the Zeitgeist (notwithstanding that 2012 is the Year of the Mutual). I mean, we recently found out that there are some things that you can't put a price on (as Patently scathingly points out above). Harvard professor Michael Sandel or Cambridge University economist Ha-Joon Chang would gladly explain to him, if he were of a mind to listen. Mr President please, buy the new book from Professor Sandel and read it.

We want higher quality examination don't we? As Patently makes obvious, more highly profitable examination is a different thing altogether.

Roufousse T. Fairfly said...

Jeremy,

Having witnessed for many years up-close the council's deep rooted contempt for the EPO staff, and having heard that the situation had by no means improved since I packed up and quit, I very, very, very much doubt that this proposition was put forward out of sheer gratitude.

I submit that the ground for this proposed payout lies in Art. 42 EPC which stipulates that the budget of the Organisation shall be balanced. The skilled person would normally interpret this as the EPOrg should neither run (largish) surpluses nor require member states to mop up its deficits.

The CA document you refer to mentions that the 2011 surplus is the third one in so many years. These 90 MEUR represent something like 7% of receipts. I speculate that the bean counters consider this a way too big a surplus to carry over to 2012, and the organisation ran out of rugs to sweep that money under. The dough can't be sent directly to member states as there are no provisions in the EPC providing for this, and reversing the monetary flow would IMO open a barrel of worms. (There are some indirect ways to achieve this through boondoggles, er, sorry, cooperation projects with NPOs, but at some point your "creative" resources are exhausted).

You could lower procedural fees, but this would only take care of future surpluses. There is also the aspect that the fees are a policy instrument, and a discount could induce a new surge of applications (as if there weren't enough already), as I believe happened during Ingo Kober's tenure.

One way would be to modify the distribution key of national renewal fees under Art. 39(1), which presently stands at 50:50, but this had never been messed with before, and again, this too wouldn't take care of past surpluses. (BTW, if you think the EPO services are overpriced, I would ask you why to justify why NPOs should receive so much money from renewal fees for essentially maintaining an entry in a ledger recording active EP B1 patents.)

I note that the CA proposal was put forward 10 months after the conclusion of the 2011 exercise, which would suggest that the interested parties scratched their heads quite a while before figuring out what to "do" with that money. Could it be that it is there are not that many ways to retroactively clear that money from the books?

The issue is therefore IMO very much about the economics of the European patent system, and not about corrupting or appeasing staff.

ex-examiner said...

The UK IPO also has a substantial operating surplus of income over expenditure. Rather than returning this to the IPO's "customers" in the form of reduced fees, or giving it to the staff as a productivity bonus [increments have been frozen for the past 3 years], the BIS is proposing to appropriate the surplus itself. The basis is that the IPO is effectively a company in which the BIS is the sole share holder, and so the surplus can be paid to it as a dividend on its share holding.

Anonymous said...

has someone thought that this bonus given this year is to attenuate future hard increases of the pensions contributions and decrease of salaries? why the suprlus was not put inthe budget chapter for buidings: i believe the EPo is doing a massive new constructin inThe hague, I believe 90 millions could help improve the new premisses.

Anonymous said...

The EPO web site now proudly announces that the documents of the Adminstrative Council are now available to the public, giving the link to these as:

http://www.epo.org/about-us/organisation/documentation/ac-documents.html

which just leads you to a search page. Is the public really meant to have a knowledge of suitable search terms before they can read a document? Would it be too difficult to indicate which documents are available up front?

Anonymous said...

The EPO web site now proudly announces that the documents of the Administrative Council are now available to the public [...] .

This is a stripped down interface to the already hardly usable internal "MICADO" database.

Meldrew said...

The documents search does permit you just to enter the year of publication [i.e. only 2012 at present] and you get a full (but at present short) list of the documents deemed suitable for public gaze.

The notice on the EPO web site states that this is a move to greater transparency, which is to be welcomed.

However documents are only to be published after each session of the Administrative Council.

So you will be able to see what they have been talking about but unable to comment beforehand. While this is "transparent" it is not immediately obvious that it is "useful" except as a way of knowing why a decision was so badly wrong.

In contrast, and to their credit, it should be noted that the EPO is having more open consultations [see here]. Both completed consultations include the statement in the summary of responses "The comments received on [matter concerned], while limited in number, were concise and relevant..".

It would be interesting to know how many people responded. It would be a shame if the process of consultation stopped because there were too few comments to make it worth the exercise.

Anonymous said...

Quality at the EPO is history. Today, their performance is rubbish. Just another gravy train in Europe.

Anonymous said...

Roufousse is, as usual, right on the money. This also explains SUEPO's apparently perplexing refusal: such a precedent could obviously work both ways, leading thus to pay cuts on bad years.
The obvious solution would of course be to allocate this "windfall" to propping up the EPO's pension scheme. But that is so clearly a good idea, that I don't remotely expect the Administrative Council to choose that.

Anonymous said...

@patently : mostly correct, with a nitpick:
"- if in doubt, grant. An opposition fee is waiting in the wings, ready to be paid."
I always hear that the opposition proceedings are a money pit for the EPO (diversely for the attorney...).
So, if in doubt grant, yes, but because it looks nice on the annual report, and your "customer" who substituted the public long ago by the EPO management is happy.
Very few patents will be opposed anyhow.

If an opposition is waiting in the wings then and then only should the examiner think twice before granting, it is bad for the production. Here, let's say hello to known feuding applicants, EADS , Procter...

Tom said...

The AC has apparently blocked this years attempt of the Office to hand 13 ME as nice bonus, see
CA/94/13 Rev. 1

Subscribe to the IPKat's posts by email here

Just pop your email address into the box and click 'Subscribe':