Patent inspectors strike over quality fears

Examiners are concerned that productivity measures proposed by EPO management will be detrimental to standards
Written by Ingrid Marson, Contributor

Employees at the European Patent Office (EPO) in Munich and Berlin held a strike on Tuesday against proposed changes to the patent assessment process, which they claim will reduce patent quality.

Wolfgang Manntz, the chair of the Berlin branch of the EPO staff union, told ZDNet UK that a half-day strike was held in Munich and a full-day strike in Berlin. Management has proposed a change to the patent assessment system, which the union claims will force patent examiners to process more applications.

"If we have to produce more, then patent quality will go down," he said. "We are already at the limits of working productivity."

A spokesman for the EPO confirmed the strike had taken place and said it had been "followed by a large majority of EPO staff".

"This action was in the context of an internal discussion to introduce a new approach for assessing the work performed by the EPO staff, notably the patent examiners, and is the result of differing views between management and staff on a number of significant points," he said.

The spokesman told the research journal Nature last week that the proposed system is expected to increase patent quality as well as productivity.

This is not the first time patent examiners have raised the issue. In a 2004 survey of 1,300 EPO patent examiners, three-quarters of staff claimed productivity demands from managers did not allow them "to enforce the quality standards set by the European Patent Convention".

Campaigners against software patents have also criticised the quality of patents issued by the EPO. In particular, they have been frustrated that the EPO has continued to grant software patents despite last year's rejection of the software patent directive.

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