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European Patent Office (EPO) staff have "worryingly low" levels of trust in the organisation's highest governing bodies, according to a leaked internal document entitled Governance of the EPO: a staff perspective.

The administrative council, which is the EPO's main governing body, is populated by representatives of the member states of Europe. The report says: "It is a matter of fact that a majority of the heads of delegations hold a function in a national office", ie, the competition. This conflict of interest is a source of much unhappiness among EPO workers.

The survey of EPO staff reveals that 96 per cent of employees failed to give their unconditional trust and support for the administrative council, while just seven per cent said they had faith in the EPO's president. In a similar survey carried out just two years earlier, 28 per cent of staff gave the president their vote of confidence.

Much of the staff's mistrust of its management stems from the perception that the European Council (those national reps again) "is pursuing financial self interest" through a fee structure under which annual renewal fees from European patents are split 50/50 with national patent offices.

When it was formed, the EPO was expected to handle something in the region of 20,000 to 30,000 patents every year. It now processes more than 200,000. the sheer volume of renewal fees means there is a huge financial investment in maintaining the status quo. It is, as one source told us "a license to print money".

But EPO staff feel they are subsidising the national offices, while representatives of the national offices feel they are subsidising the EPO. The report also suggests that staff feel national representatives are trying to weaken the EPO by pushing for decentralisation.

From even the briefest of readings of this report, it seems the EPO is involved in a political bunfight of such gargantuan proportions it is astonishing that anyone has time to examine any patents. Its critics might argue that this would explain a lot.

Other whinges from staff include: feeling disconnected from their masters, over worked, and complain of inconsistent messages from their bosses. When asked to identify "opportunities to improve efficiency", or stuff that really sucks, the most popular choices were "better...computer systems", "clear and consistent instructions", "better balance between workload and capacity".

The EPO confirmed that the document is authentic, but could not offer any official comment on its findings.

You can read the full survey here. We're told it will be submitted to the administrative council during the week commencing 25 June, after which we can expect some form of official comment from the EPO. ®

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