According to an internal memo from the union, the official target for 2017 of 400,000 ‘products’ has been increased to an unofficial target of 415,000 and could lead to negative consequences for staff health and patent quality.
Products are granted only for a few actions that an examiner is expected to perform: a patent search, a patent grant, or a patent refusal. Examiners are awarded points, which determine whether employees have reached their individual and collective targets.
A source close to SUEPO said that the EPO point system is “perverted” as it “does not reward the issuing of a very solid patent after a thorough search, but, on the contrary in the current work climate where fear of reprisal plays a huge role, it has become an unhealthy incentive to support the mass-production of (low-quality) patents”.
The source said that under the outgoing president of the EPO Benoît Battistelli, the product targets have “increased tremendously”, leading to examiners being forced to cut corners.
Battistelli is due to be replaced by current EU IP Office executive director António Campinos, next July, after an election on 11 October.
The source concluded that the increase in product pressure is “sabotaging the arrival of Campinos since it will be hard for Campinos to maintain such extravagant production pressure in the future”.
On employee health, the SUEPO memo explained: “The permanent and excessive work pressure and unreachable targets are likely to cause staff members to become sick and exhausted. That is not a good place to be.”
It added: “First of all, illness is always unpleasant. But also, the callous way with which the office treats sick colleagues is not conducive to reduction of the stress levels, and can lock the sick colleagues in a vicious circle.”
The source said that the 15,000-product increase was a problem as it comes suddenly at the end of the year, comes years after a steady increase and puts patent quantity before quality.
In October last year, vice president in charge of the EPO’s Directorate-General Operations, Guillaume Minnoye, put forward the directorate’s strategic directions for 2017.
The plan included the original target of 400,000 products and 92,000 patent publications in 2017.
Minnoye said that the increased target would help the office cope with its workload and improve its overall timeliness, “whilst continuing to improve the quality of our products”.
It said: “Quality is our main asset in the IP world. It serves the applicants, the public and the European industry.”