EPO is not eager to receive EU political oversight

Joff Wild reported on his blog (June 19) of an internal memo of the EPO (European Patent Office) reporting on the attitude of staff to the way in which the EPO is being run. Almost simultaneously, the head of legal affairs at the EPO stated that it is now too easy to obtain patents and there needs to be a shift towards fewer, but higher-quality, rights.Joff wrote: “And to add a certain spice to the situation, as well as handing valuable ammunition to the EPO’s opponent’s, Wim Van der Eijk, Principal Director of the International Legal Affairs and Patent Law Department, was last week quoted as saying: “Patents are granted too easily … We need to have a more critical look, and steer policy in the direction of less, but stronger patents.” Now I don’t know in what context he was talking and if he was referring to the EPO or not, but it strikes me that at a time when the EPO is awarding more patents than it ever has before, this was not a particularly clever thing to say.”Another view is possible. The criticism makes sense when one reads in the internal memo:

“There is a strong belief amongst staff that the financial benefits to theMember States arising from the renewal fees motivate the AdministrativeCouncil, and consequently the EPO administration, to focus on the quantityrather than the quality of the granted patents.” 

 My guess is that Wim van der Eijk, assuming he is being quoted correctly, was adding to the criticism (which the internal memo signals is being shared internally at the EPO) that the national patent offices, by means of their representation in the Administrative Council of the EPO, have a natural tendency of promoting volume over quality of patents (more patents means more income for the member states). That policy, when adopted by the EPO Examiners, would result in more not better patents, which in turn would mean that quality will suffer. Put otherwise, we are not so sure that all EPO principals are really happy with the rise in patent numbers and are concerned that quality issues may soon result in additional political pressure by (e.g.) the European Parliament to force the EPO to be subject to some new Policy Review Oversight. We can see why no one in the EPO would be particularly happy with such a development.