The European Inventor Award - what is the EPO doing?

Many things can motivate a blogger to set aside what they are doing and begin to pen a blogpost.  It may be excitement about a judgment that has just come out, enthusiasm about a new legal development, or interest piqued by a news item.  Sometimes, it is grumpiness.  This is one such time.

The IPKat is a keen user of various social media, and anyone using applications such as Twitter to follow developments in the world of intellectual property cannot fail to have been bombarded, as has the IPKat, by items about the European Inventor Award 2015.  There is an extensive section on the website of the European Patent Office about this event, going back to 2006.  Merpel notes that this is in stark contrast to the tiny section, as she posted earlier this week, about the Unitary Patent.

The IPKat wants to know what on earth the EPO is doing lavishing such resources on such an event.

Article 4(3) of the European Patent Convention states that:
The task of the Organisation shall be to grant European patents. This shall be carried out by the European Patent Office supervised by the Administrative Council. 
Ultra vires = no no
Whatever the European Inventor Award is, it is certainly not "to grant European patents".  So this Kat's first gripe is that the event seems completely ultra vires in respect of what the EPO is actually supposed to be doing.  National patent offices may have a wider mandate to foster innovation, to promote intellectual property generally, and to raise the profile of patenting, but the EPO most emphatically does not.  At best, it is a distraction, and an apparently costly one at that, from the EPO's legally defined role.

"Maybe this year I'll manage it ..."
But this Kat thinks that it is worse than that.  The European Inventor Award is about ranking inventions.  Publicly proclaiming that one invention (the winner) has more merit than others (the runners up and those that were not even nominated).  This is actually contrary to the EPO's role as a body that grants patents, in which role (its only legally ceded role) it is bound to judge any invention against the objective standards of novelty and inventive step, irrespective of merit with respect to any other invention.  Others are free to opine that one invention is "better" or has more worth than another, but the EPO should be quite disinterested in this.  Its involvement with such an event tarnishes its objectivity.

The European Patent Office does many laudable things that do relate to its task assigned by Treaty of granting European patents.  The development of electronic registers, online access to prosecution files, development of patent databases and search tools, and pioneering work on online filing systems.  And of course training in respect of all of these.  These activities are to be lauded and welcomed.

The European Inventor Award is at best an expensive distraction, and at worse a dangerous compromise of principle.

As ever, the IPKat welcomes comments from our readers, and to this end a poll has been arranged on the sidebar to coincide with this post, where readers can express their own view of the European Inventor Award.  The IPKat looks forward to hearing your views.
The European Inventor Award - what is the EPO doing? The European Inventor Award - what is the EPO doing? Reviewed by Darren Smyth on Thursday, May 28, 2015 Rating: 5


  1. Come on kitty !

    Well informed sources say it will cost only 2 millions EUR of applicants' money this year (if you add all carefully splitted costs...)

    The price of BB's inflated ego, his grand finale in the former stock exchange in Paris (Palais Brogniart)


  2. Could you just be a tiny bit jealous that none of your inventors have yet qualified to be nominated?
    Is it possible it helps the morale of the examiners and makes them appreciate that all their dry paperwork does relate to real-world achievements.
    Also All those other excellent I T related services are not in my opinion outside the legitimate remit of the EPO either but entirely focused on making its core activity more efficient and transparent.
    I propose that Merpel goes about looking for positive issues in the halls of the EPO to celebrate. A kitty can have too much negativity in its life. Lets investigate the goodies

  3. I always assumed it was a "Mine's Bigger than Yours" contest. The USPTO (or is it IPO, or AIPLA?) has an "Inventor of the Year" contest doesn't it? So the EPO President has to go one better, so he can brag about it in his Biggest 3 and Big 5 gatherings.

    Who was President in 2006, when this glad-handing Jolly Jape was first got up and running?

    Of course, those who sit on the AC are discomfited by the thought that Europe might not be doing as much for "Innovation" as the USA and Asia. This is then their big thing, to help them feel better about themselves. "We are doing something, OK, to make Europe more competitive. And all for a modest cost. What more do you want, for goodness' sake"

  4. Oh, Barbara, surely you stopped reading this blogpost before you got to the end.

    When you write "I propose that Merpel goes about looking for positive issues in the halls of the EPO to celebrate. A kitty can have too much negativity in its life. Lets investigate the goodies", you cannot have spotted the bit where Merpel says "The European Patent Office does many laudable things that do relate to its task assigned by Treaty of granting European patents. The development of electronic registers, online access to prosecution files, development of patent databases and search tools, and pioneering work on online filing systems. And of course training in respect of all of these. These activities are to be lauded and welcomed."

  5. Dear Barbara

    No, I am not the tiniest bit jealous. For all I know, one of "my" (whatever that means for a patent attorney) inventors may have been nominated. I have no idea.

    It is theoretically possible that it boosts morale, but actually I believe that it doesn't.

    I think you have misread my antepenultimate paragraph because you seem to be trying to disagree with me when you are saying the same thing.

    Best wishes


  6. (Speaking as the attorney for an inventor who was nominated, Barbara...)

    I think it's a good idea in principle to have an award of this type. As per the sidebar poll, though, I'm not sure the EPO is the right organisation to run it; its funds have a specific purpose set out in the Treaty. It is also arguable that the EPO might do more to encourage innovation and patenting by ceasing all ancillary activities and reducing its fees accordingly.

    My principal concern, however, comes dow the the practicalities. Consider last year's finalists in the "Lifetime Achievement" category; the winner was a serial inventor who gave the world wall plugs and a toy building brick system. He beat a married couple who have been working together since 1975 on a bionic ear implant that has now eliminated deafness in first world countries. How do you possibly compare the two against each other?

  7. Barbara,

    Nope, I assure you that the effect on morale is either zilch or negative, especially when at the same time the travel dept. hassles you for the price of a bus ticket on your last mission, or you can't get your chair fixed, or that you must run through the gauntlet to get just any kind of request approved.

    Presidents and Senior Management hardly have any real contact anymore with the staff, but find plenty of time for wolfing down hors-d'oeuvres at these ridiculous events. It used to be that new year's greetings would be presented personally by senior management. The practice dwindled with Mrs. Brimelow, and I bet that it all but disappeared under her successor.

    This thing has been perceived since its inception by President Pompidou as a boondoggle, and nothing else. God knows what shady deals goes in its organisation.

    The objections voiced by Darren are by no means original.

  8. Orville the Duck, says:

    "I wish I could fly". No, sorry, what I meant to say was:

    This is just part of the anti-EPO press that this blog is pushing more than Princess Diana stories in the Daily Mail. No-one cares about the inventor award and all organisations spend/waste cash on publicity nonsense.
    Dig, Dig, Dig and we will be loved by the examiners! Time to pass our EP cases to Darren who will now be in the examiners' good books.

  9. The inventor award is indeed a waste of time, human resources and applicants’ money. It is also a wonderful tool for prez Battistelli for rewarding, bribing or punishing AC delegations depending on their votes.

  10. So Google Account, if you have evidence of PB bribing people why not share it with everyone, your local police, or even the FBI maybe? No? Shyness can be so debilitating.

  11. If I remember correctly, the awards started as a joint EPO-EU initiative which the EPO organised but, presumably, was jointly financed. When did that change? And why? Has the EPO been stuck with the baby and carries on as part of the Unitary Patent promotion?

  12. Vostradamus remarks:
    The EPO should be neutral in its examination of patents/patent applications and thus its should not participate or initiate any activities aimed at praising this or that invention. The "Inventor of the year award" was creared to satisfy the ego of some people in the EPO. Mrs Brimelow - in a rare spark of light- had at one point decided that it was inappropriate but her ego later inflated again and she did not abolish this absurd circus. Mr Battistelli with his enormously inflated ego and desire to appear everywhere and be at the center of attention and shake important hands will certaily not think of abolishing it. Otherwise he would be in the papers only for his bad management of the EPO and constant violation of human rights. Only with pressure from outside the office will this absurd event be cancelled once forever. Let's us put pressure on the Office in this respect and say NO!

  13. This anti-EPO rhetoric is just so tiresome.

  14. About as representative of innovation as Eurovision is of music.

    And did you see the nationalist publicity?

    Scrap the thing.

  15. Thank you Jim Boff and Meldrew for stirring my interest enough to go to the EPO website to find out who gets to be the "Winner".

    It seems there is an IOTY Jury. Very impressive company there. And I like some of the names (Haberman, Heckl). And it's their decision alone (it seems). On the EPO website I can find no mention of any other voters.

    So what, pray, is all the "nationalist" voting stuff that Jim Boff sees and Meldrew alerts us to (above)?

    Am I seeing a parallel with the entertainment of national voting in the Saturday night Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) spectacle? I watched it this year and thought it looked beyond its Sell-By Date. The three front women looked to me to be devoid of all enthusiasm for it or its slogan "Building Bridges", constantly exhorting the viewers to vote but without any conviction that anybody might bother themselves to vote. Pointless for me to ask, I suppose, whether anybody but the IOTY jury will ever know anything about number of votes (12 votes perhaps) for "Inventor of the Year".

    Interestingly though, the ESC seems to have dropped the French language altogether. No more the charming sound of "Royaume-Uni". But French is not done for quite yet. You have only to consider the EPO. Not only its President, but also the Chairman of its IOTY jury is an illustrious Frenchman.

  16. It isn't only IP commentators who have reservations about this event.

    The MIT School of Humanities runs the Knight Science Journalism fellowships which provides time for experienced journalists to acquaint themselves with new subjects and disciplines. This program includes the KSJ Tracker blog on science writing.

    In their own words:

    Each year, the MIT Knight Science Journalism (KSJ) program hosts 12 to 15 esteemed science journalists from around the world to spend a fellowship year at MIT, honing their reporting skills while working alongside scientists and researchers. [RTF: I'm certain that the journalists will report on MIT related topics with absolute objectivity after a stay in Cambridge MA]. In 2006, the KSJ program established the KSJ Tracker as part of its program.

    The Tracker publishes reviews and critiques of science articles to help educate the public about quality science journalism reporting, while simultaneously elevating the reporting bar for science journalists.

    Author Paul Raeburn takes exception to the promotion of the EIA by the Association of British Science Writers in the blogpost Free trip, free lodging, and "the exclusive opportunity to attend a press conference.", classified under the unflattering tag "press junket".

    The [EPO] and the European Journalism Centre say they "will cover the travel and accommodation costs." [...]

    It's a bona fide science-writers' junket! That's bad enough, but what's worse is that the announcement carries the logo of the Association of British Science Writers. They are endorsing this! (I fear I will run out of exclamation points!)

    This kind of thing would draw swift condemnation in the U.S., and it's drawing swift condemnation right here. Science writers come in all stripes these days, and many American science writers would no doubt choose to attend such a junket if it were offered here. But journalists should not go anywhere near this kind of event.

    The standard response to this is that there is of course no quid pro quo. But the [EPO] doesn't have to ask the junketing reporters to write stories, or write nice stories. British science writers are a friendly bunch; they are not likely to criticize or dismiss their hosts in print. And the [EPO] knows that.

    If this were a legitimate news event, the organizers would not have to offer a junket--science writers would cover it on their own.

    (Emphasis is mine).

  17. As a foreigner I will not voice a directive as to what you should or should not do.

    However, I can - and thus will - voice an opinion on the debate here. Clearly, the article has - and makes - a valid point in asking some rather simple questions:

    What is the designated mission of the organization?

    Does this activity (an expensive one at that, apparently) align with that express mission?

    It does appear to at least this observer that instead of alignment, the gist of the event does in fact detract from an underlying principle of the system, and this effect is indeed an insidious one at that: the insertion of "philosophical worthiness" as to what belongs to the scope of the world of patents in the first place.

    Here in the States, we fight that battle currently - and to any student of history, this is a repeat battle (just visit the pre-1952 landscape of Flash of Genius).


  18. To Max Drei

    The inventor of the year award was set up during Pompidou's reign.

  19. To the - strangely - unidentified "Anonymous" (Control Risks demonstrating their powers) of 29.5 at 8.47

    Strange this - the EPO does things that are not in their remit, and it is the ones who criticise the EPO for doing that who are told that their anti-EPO rethoric is tiring! Why don't you tell the EPO to stop those tiring (and for applicants who pay for them, expensive) gimmicks?

  20. Anyone noticed the disproportionate amount of nominations for French inventors? How many countries in the EPC?

  21. Object d'art quotes…

    Presenter: "BB put on some makeup and get over here!" (after a long CNN commercial) "..And, now a word from the EPO."

    BB: “ In the great wealth, the great firmament of the EPO's generosities this particular award may perhaps be found by future generations as a trifle eccentric, but the mere fact of it . . . the prodigal, pure, human kindness of it . . . must be seen as a beautiful star in that firmament which shines upon the nominees at this moment, dazzling you all a little, but filling you all with warmth of the extraordinary elation, the euphoria that happens to so many of you at the first breath of the EPOs majestic glow of a new tomorrow. (…a lot of deaf people jumping up and down.)

    Presenter: “BB just want to thank everyone who spends at least some part of their day inventing”

    BB: “May I have the envelope, please"

    Presenter: “Please be sure to read everything in the envelope carefully."

    BB: (opening the envelope..)” Well, well, well what do we know. I've watched this young man for a long time. Saw him come up from the bottom, and I mean the bottom. It couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. Come and get it, Jesper!" (..BB not clarifify which Jesper. There were a few Jespers around)-

    JK: "Over here, I'm over here! “- JK (thinking it was him) … shouting "If you've got an award leftover at the end of the night. I'd like to have it."

    Award winner: “I accept this very gratefully for keeping my mouth shut for once, I think I'll do it again next year.”

    BB: “I was going to thank all the little people, but then I remember I am the little people. My tears speak for me."

  22. I agree with much of what Darren says, but not on this occasion.

    I think it is perfectly reasonable for the EPO to engage in a bit of PR, even if it is not strictly assigned by the EPC. The EIA helps to promote patents within Europe, and keeps the EPO in the news for positive reasons - something that should be welcomed by everyone in the IP profession. There is plenty to criticise about the EPO, but this is not one of them.

    Also, I am not sure we can put much faith in the results of a sidebar poll with an inbuilt bias: five options, four of which are critical of the EPO...

  23. Dear Peter,
    I must apologise for the error in the sidebar poll. The positive EPO option was included by mistake and shall be corrected immediately.
    Yours truly,
    Mr Lion

  24. It started indeed under Mr Pompidou and the first event was in Brussels and was a joint venture between the EPO and the EU. Mr Verheugen then VP of the Commission even held a speech. But the EU soon dropped out.
    The event is just farcical, and when one knows how the selection is made, one can just shake its head. Proposals come from examiners, national patent offices (yes, or patent professionals in the host country. Furthermore, the patent should have been granted within a given time frame, and there should no opposition be going on. This excludes patents which might be valid candidates, but were unlucky to be opposed. The selected patents or inventors should also not have received a corresponding award.
    There has always to be a fair share of nominees from the country in which the event is held. And it cannot come as a surprise that some national of this country are then the winner. This explains why Mr Fisher got a lifetime award when it was held in Germany... And he received lots of other awards, but it was good to boost the importance of BB.
    BB asked French representatives to provide French candidates for the event to be held in Paris in June.....
    And indeed the costs are astronomical! The venues cost a bomb, but also all the artists, presenters acting there. Examiner act as chaperons for nominees.
    Half the AC is present..... The top management as well. To lower the costs, examiners are requested to travel economy, but top management travels business class....
    To make it short, the whole event is a self laudation exercise for the benefit of nobody but some egos, starting with the President.
    The AC should stop this stupidity, by blocking funds for it, but then we arrive to the comparison EPO/FIFA found in FOSS blog.
    In Prague, BB, then in the AC and the then President, Mrs Brimelow, sat next to each other at the same table, but did not speak to each other. The shock of egos was palpable, and this might have led to her later announced resignation.

  25. Well said indeed, that last anon. Your comments are gratifyingly trenchant.

    But it is not just on FOSS patents that the comparison between the EPO and FIFA is made. I copy below something that appeared last week on a Guardian comments thread:

    "The parallels between President Blatter and President Battistelli are striking. Both are adored by their constituency because both have the power to direct a tasty pile of money to those who vote for them. No accounts. No accountability. No transparency. No sunlight. And in Battistelli's case, strikingly, those voters are exclusively the 38 Member States of the European Patent Organisation ie the sovereign first world, highly-civilised States of Europe. It seems that these very governments like things how they are today, at the EPO.

    In Rome there is an enclave beyond the Rule of Law called The Vatican City, ruled over by The Pope. In Munich there is the Republic of Eponia, also beyond the law, and ruled over by Battistelli. Eponia is the home of the European Patent Office, that takes in squillions of cash, and doles it out to its owners, the Members of its Administrative Council, civil servants who are there to represent the 38 Member States of Europe. But hey, these civil servants are only human after all, aren't they.

    President Benoit Battistelli (some call him "Battistoritelli") is a career politician from France, a mate of M. Sarkozi, and he has the 38 AC members in his capacious pocket. Not even the AC members know how much the President awards himself in "compensation". Question Benoit, ever-smiling, ever hand-shaking, ever-equable in public, quite other when away from the public eye. Ask him what adjustments of the cash flow will he contemplate, in consequence.

    You talk of abuse of employment rights in Quatar. Consider instead the abuse of rights of those many thousands who work at the EPO. Being outside the Rule of Law, they have no rights. Consider that you cannot find out anything about how EPO workers are treated by management, and ask why that might be.

    There is a problem today with NGO's wherever you look. But if you are looking for one where Western Europe can set an example to the rest of the world, there's none better than the EPO. And of course the corollary is if the 38 choose to do nothing, they are no better than the countries of Asia, Africa and South and Central America that today (I'm talking to you, Big Dave) they are so quick to criticise.

    The grapevine reports that the UK is bent on doing something at the level of the AC of the EPO. But the hard bit is implementation. If only the USA sat on the EPO's AC. The USA has a record of actually doing something, when doing something is called for."

  26. For the price of the annual extravaganza the EPO could hire and maintain more than a few members of the Boards.

    From my side of the grapevine:

    BB's time is running out.

    JK is jockeying to position himself as a successor, publicly showing total commitment whilst preparing to ditch his support the very second the wind begins to blow in another direction - an artful but tricky manoeuvre.

    How he will manage to distance himself from a legacy which is also largely his own remains to be seen. But for some unfathomable reason he apparently still enjoys the support of his government.

  27. For the price of a 10% pay cut the EPO could hire a lot more examiners.

  28. @Voice of Reason:
    For the price of sacking all the President's bootlickers the EPO could hire a lot of decent staff

  29. A French Minister of State said...

    AL: “The French government is aware about the social difficulties that have been expressed within the EPO, the EPO has the exemplary task to exercise an absolute transparency with respect to the rights of staff working there.” (audience clapping…, except BB)

    Audience: It is the rare fortune these days that one may think what the audience likes and say what the audience thinks.

  30. @ A French Minister of State said...

    Right! I saw it as well on the Euro-news site in the Inventor of the Year footage. Axelle Lemaire is an amazing speaker! BB can learn something from her...

    Happy reader


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