Annual Review 2020

Key achievements: Goal 1

Decorative image - Goal 1: Build an engaged, knowledgeable and collaborative organisation

Attract and develop talent

Goal 1 is about building a talented and engaged staff community. In response to the pandemic and its economic impact, the Office adopted a cautious approach to recruitment in 2020, pending greater certainty over future patent filing trends. External recruitment was heavily restricted as of May in favour of a stronger focus on internal job mobility, and especially partial mobility (allowing staff to divide their time between two positions).

Promoting internal job mobility

Thanks to internal job mobility and the Digital Talent Marketplace, the Office largely managed to meet its business needs in 2020 via the rebalanced allocation of talent. Internal mobility was supported by unprecedented training efforts, creating a host of new development opportunities for staff. As part of this new upskilling dynamic, 48 staff members trained as formalities officers and 136 examiners began working in a new technical field.

In 2020, the development programme for Business Information Technology (BIT) was completed and new programmes were set up for project managers, quality auditors and diversity and inclusion promoters. These initiatives were complemented by an "Advanced Leadership" programme for EPO managers, as well coaching and mentoring for aspiring line and project managers.

To reflect the growing importance of continuous learning, the EPO also launched a new online training portal (iLearn) in 2020. The portal gives all employees remote access to learning resources and support with managing their individual learning journeys. Over the course of the year, EPO staff participated in 111 067 hours of instructor-led courses (75% as virtual sessions), 11 734 hours of internal e-learning courses and 18 236 hours of external online learning courses. In terms of performance management and goal-setting, the Office continued to pursue a holistic approach highlighting the importance of collaboration.

Filling the external talent pipeline

Despite its successful internal recruitment drive, the Office still needs to maintain its position as an employer of choice. Recruiting the right talent remains crucial to its sustainability as a leading knowledge-based institution, and so the EPO is continuously looking for innovative ways to engage with the best and the brightest.

To this end, the EPO started organising virtual job fairs and building sustainable candidate pipelines in the examining, IT and legal areas in 2020, to facilitate more flexible recruitment and shorter lead times.

Following a talent pipeline approach, vacancies in IT attracted 1 400 applications from IT professionals. A total of seven candidates were hired and 56 candidates entered a sustainable talent pipeline for the future. The Office also conducted an in-depth analysis of the various channels used to attract talent (social media platforms, job boards, etc.) and developed a targeted media plan.

In addition, the Office developed new branding content to promote the benefits of the EPO as an employer in an authentic way, including employee stories posted on social media and a new style of vacancy notice featuring an augmented reality experience. The EPO also continued to digitalise its recruitment and onboarding activities in 2020.

Figure 5: Augmented reality in an online vacancy notice

Pan-European Seal Programme

The Pan-European Seal Professional Traineeship Programme is about creating the next generation of IP professionals across Europe. The EPO's framework for strategic co‑operation with European universities and the European Union Intellectual Property Office aims to foster an awareness of IP's benefits among the best and the brightest.

Despite the pandemic, in 2020 the programme continued to offer high-achieving graduates a one-year traineeship and valuable on-the-job training in a multicultural and diverse professional environment.

The number of trainees who joined the Office for the 2020/21 programme was a record 77 graduates from prestigious universities in 19 countries. Female trainees accounted for 66% of the cohort. In view of the pandemic, trainees were onboarded remotely, and many continue to work from their home country or from Munich on a voluntary basis.

By the end of 2020, the programme spanned 34 European Patent Organisation member states and two extension states with some 82 member universities. Spread across Europe, these universities possess a track record for excellence in technical, science and engineering fields.

Figure 6: Pan-European Seal Programme 2020/21

The Pan-European Seal Programme 2.0, adopted in 2020, features:

  • a new trainee development plan
  • an extended external programme partnership
  • a new trainee administrative framework
  • an improved recruitment strategy

Expanding the programme via new partnerships with leading technical universities and forging closer links with current member universities is a key step towards the broader integration of IP in technical and scientific education curricula. By giving young graduates a solid knowledge of IP protection and its economic added value, the EPO aims to help fast- track the commercialisation of research results. For the EPO, fostering the professional growth of young people is a matter of social responsibility. It's about investing in human capital today for a brighter future tomorrow.

Building investment programme

Before the pandemic struck, the Office had drawn up an ambitious plan to invest in its premises. The Building Investment Programme (BIP) was approved in principle by the European Patent Organisation's Administrative Council at the end of 2019, with the agreement that each project would be presented to the Council for financial approval. The programme aimed to improve the sustainability of EPO buildings, maintain the value of real estate assets and create a modern and healthy working environment for staff.

These goals still stand. But insights gained from the way the EPO worked in 2020 suggest that the pandemic has already permanently changed attitudes to the physical working environment and the services and functions delivered by and in our buildings. The key findings of the "Shaping the new normal" survey conducted in autumn 2020 suggested that the Office needed to rethink its building policy.

Firstly, the survey results show that the traditional approach of working five days a week from the Office premises - on which the former BIP was based - is a thing of the past. They also suggest that the number of staff using the buildings will fluctuate significantly compared with the pre-pandemic era. In the survey, only 23% of staff expressed their desire to work from EPO buildings mainly or on a full-time basis in the future. Around 30% of staff wish to telework 3-4 days per week and 23% wish to telework 1-2 days per week. Moreover, 22% of staff want to telework on a full-time basis, while only 6% of staff expressly stated that they are not interested in teleworking at all.

Secondly, the survey reveals that around one third of the staff surveyed would like to be able to work from an alternative EPO location to their current duty station. Around half of staff expressed an interest in working from another EPO location periodically. This desire for mobility will require a more flexible approach to office space management in the future.

Thirdly, the survey asked staff about their primary motivation for using our buildings. Nearly 90% of participants expect to come to the office for informal exchanges and meetings, while 75% will use the office to work collaboratively. Two thirds of staff declared their intention to use the office for high-concentration tasks and/or to make use of onsite equipment. Half of staff plan to make use of onsite social facilities and services such as canteens and sports facilities and to participate in Amicale activities. This diverse range of motivational drivers calls for a mix of spaces that can accommodate both collaborative and high-concentration tasks as well as social interactions.

Overall, the survey results suggest that EPO buildings need to physically embody the Office's efforts to support flexibility, collaboration and community. So the focus of the BIP in 2020 was to start adapting the programme's content to the new reality.

Diversity and inclusion

In 2020 the EPO continued its journey towards a workplace where everyone feels welcome and respected. The Office marked its commitment to full inclusiveness by adopting a disability policy and publishing guidelines on gender-neutral language.

Raising awareness is another key pillar of diversity and inclusion (D&I). As a follow-up to the Inclusion Weeks organised at the beginning of March, the Office published a list of ten inclusive behaviours in July, identifying positive actions to create an inclusive culture at the EPO and complement the values of trust, fairness and respect embedded in the Strategic Plan 2023. 

In 2020, the EPO celebrated several special events including International Women's Day and - for the first time in the Office's history - Christopher Street Day. This was marked in Munich and The Hague by the site managers, who raised the rainbow flag to show the Office's support for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT+) community.

Figure 7: Raising the rainbow flag at the EPO

In April, the Office also launched a new disability inclusion policy. The policy is guided by the principle that individuals are to be treated according to their unique needs and that everyone should be enabled to fully participate at work on an equal basis with others. Another milestone in 2020 was the creation of a D&I promoters network to raise awareness and engage with staff on D&I topics. In 2020, the Office trained close to 500 managers in D&I, along with confidential counsellors and staff representatives.

Strengthening corporate culture

A strong corporate culture and effective communication are crucial to managing the kind of rapid changes seen in 2020. To improve its performance, the EPO's Principal Directorate Communication was reorganised into a Channel Management and a Content Creation team, replacing the directorates previously focused on internal and external communications.

In addition to providing vital information and handling queries on COVID-19's impact on the EPO, the principal directorate also launched new initiatives including online videos, a podcast series and social media posts on the pandemic. Emphasis was placed on engaging EPO staff, with 45 pandemic-related news items published on the EPO intranet, resulting in over 42 000 views. Similarly, external communication efforts were also ramped up, with 28 news items posted on the EPO website, garnering over 430 000 views.

The second milestone of 2020 was the setup of the Communication Intelligence Network (CIN), which comprises 25 staff from across the organisation. The CIN aims to strengthen corporate culture by developing and implementing an intelligent, agile and collaborative way of communicating in the Office. After an internal recruitment process, a network filled with energetic staff from all areas of the EPO started informal exchanges at the end of 2020.

Promoting hot topics

Communication campaigns were run during 2020 to promote several key developments. The topics covered ranged from a new pilot agreement with the China National Intellectual Property Administration and the launch of oral proceedings in opposition via videoconferencing to the EPO's new approach to quality and a series of case law lectures with the Boards of Appeal.

To raise staff awareness of the wider impact of patents, a "Talk innovation" podcast channel was launched last September. By the end of the year, the new channel featured 19 episodes that had generated a total of around 5 700 plays. The most popular episode, with 426 downloads, was "António Campinos reflects on 2020", while the top episode on social media was "Inventors revisited: The great vaccine race - Rino Rappuoli". The social media campaign promoting the podcast episodes reached about 360 000 users.

Increasing transparency and efficiency in financial processes

In 2020, the EPO launched a fees management project and defined its future financial steering model under the programme "Finance 360". The programme primarily aims to improve cost awareness and increase accountability. To this end, the new role of finance partners was defined across different areas of the Office to progressively empower managers to take ownership of financial topics in their areas.

In 2020, the EPO also launched five projects in the areas of procurement, sourcing, budgeting and organisation to improve process efficiency. Towards the end of the year, work started on the contract model review, as well as the definition of the future financial reporting process.

In December, the fees management project delivered its first product: the centralised payment service for patent fee payment by bank payers. This will make the payment process more user-friendly by displaying the full list of fees due for payment by applicants, facilitating the internal reconciliation process.

Fostering social dialogue

Over 100 meetings (statutory and non-statutory consultations) took place with staff representatives and unions in 2020, despite the pandemic. A wide range of topics were discussed, both at a technical level with experts, as well as with the President and senior management.

This led to tangible results in several areas. They included a bundle of measures to ensure the Office's long-term financial sustainability, a new salary adjustment procedure, a disability policy, improvements in performance management (related to the recognition of PhDs as work experience and a one-off automatic career step advancement for some staff) and the EPO healthcare and long-term care insurance schemes. Changes to the process of sick leave verification were introduced with effect from 1 January 2021 as well.

Ahead of staff representative elections in June 2020, the EPO also reviewed its social democracy framework. After discussions with the staff representatives, the Administrative Council adopted the changes to the EPO's Service Regulations in March. These were complemented by a revision of Circular 355 in April. The Staff Committee elections were successfully completed with a participation rate of just over 58%, and 48 staff representatives were elected.

In line with the EPO's commitment to move away from a culture of litigation towards one of greater dialogue, over 663 cases were proposed for settlement over the last 24 months. There was a positive outcome in 52% of the cases involving individual appellants with up to three pending cases. Recurring appellants, however, have shown less willingness to resolve litigation, with a success rate of 33%. The initiative to reconsider litigation in favour of reaching amicable solutions remains a priority in 2021.

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