As many kind readers have pointed out, the frequency of Merpel's visits to the EPO has been decreasing of late. This is, alas, not a sign that all is well there, but rather on the contrary that the worrying and depressing developments have been proceeding at a pace that she has, to her great regret, not been able to keep up with.
For nearly three years Merpel has been documenting the troubles of this increasingly problematic organisation, which she dubbed "Eponia" in an early satirical blogpost.
The current EPO President Benoît Battistelli has been attacking all parts of the EPO with ruthless efficiency. The strands of this are almost too numerous to enumerate, but Merpel will attempt a brief summary. (Most of the posts on this topic are labelled "Eponia" so a search on this should reveal to any keen readers the majority of Merpel's posts.)
- A Board of Appeal member remains in limbo having been suspended, but the Enlarged Board of Appeal three times (showing admirable and rare backbone) having declined (also noted here) to propose his removal from office.
- The staff representation has been emasculated, and the main staff union SUEPO has been constantly under attack, with four of its officers either sacked or demoted on dubious charges (see posts here and here).
- The Boards of Appeal have likewise been emasculated and banished to Haar, approved by the AC last October, seemingly in retaliation for the lack of compliance of the Enlarged Board of Appeal with the President's wishes.
- Examination quotas have been continually increased for Examiners, and while the mantra about "quality not affected" is often raised, there is actually no proper assessment of examination quality, with many reports that it is suffering. The astonishing 40% increase in granted patents in 2016 has been widely reported, although this is presumably partly due to the changed examination priorities which, inter alia, involve progressing rapidly to grant cases that are clearly allowable.
- The social situation at the EPO has deteriorated with repeated amendments to the employment regulations, and the atmosphere between Examiners and managers grows increasingly toxic.
The EPO question is now also being raised increasingly in political circles in France, the Netherlands, and Germany. But so far such political pressure does not seem to have been effective either directly against the administration, or indirectly via the Administrative Council.
Of course Merpel did not expect that the writings of a fictional feline would alter the course of EPO history. But she did hope that documenting and raising the public profile of the issues might cause some of those who actually have oversight of the EPO to take note of the developments. Depressingly, the Administrative Council, to whom oversight of the EPO and its President is entrusted, has failed in its task and on countless occasions has agreed to the reforms proposed, usually with just some token abstentions to indicate concern.
Most of the damage has now been done with many of the harmful changes already implemented. Several of SUEPO's committee have stepped down, and now Merpel feels the time is right for her to do the same. She has many other calls on her time, and now she wishes to spend some more time with her kittens. She will from time to time write about other matters, but she will no longer be covering the situation at the EPO.
There are signs that the EPO situation is being caught in the wider press as well as in political circles - EPO-related stories have at last begun to appear in the regular press with reasonable frequency, and even in everyone's favourite satirical magazine Private Eye. Merpel hopes that this will continue, and perhaps change will finally come. The Register recently opined that "Time is running out for European Patent Office president Benoît Battistelli", but this seems premature to Merpel even now, as he is an astute political operator and has weathered many apparently career-terminating storms before.
Merpel would like to thank the readers and commenters that have made the comments sections of earlier posts so informative.