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Key achievements: Goal 5

Goal 5 – Secure long-term sustainability

In 2023, the EPO remained committed to building a more sustainable future and made significant progress in environmental sustainability, societal impact, governance and transparency, and financial sustainability.

Environmental sustainability

Acknowledging the critical urgency of the climate crisis, and aligning our ambitions with concrete actions, the EPO is committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2030. This contribution towards a lower carbon future provides a further instance of the EPO supporting the global realisation of the UN SDGs. The EPO's long-term, holistic approach to environmental sustainability is reflected by compliance since 2009 with the EcoManagement and Audit Scheme (EMAS), which was re-certified in 2023.

Within the four years of Strategic Plan 2023, the EPO reduced its carbon footprint by 56%. However, in 2023 the EPO’s total carbon emissions increased by 9% compared to 2022, mainly due to due to the loss of cooling agents caused by ageing infrastructure (see the Environmental Report 2023 for more details). To help ensure that the EPO continues to reduce its environmental footprint, several actions were taken in 2023 and reported in accordance with the Global Greenhouse Gas Protocol.

Particular attention was given to the reduction of the energy consumption of our buildings. Examples of energy-saving initiatives include vacating the buildings PschorrHöfe 5-7 in Munich and the Shell building in The Hague, as well as the implementation of software for weather-dependent regulation of the heating and cooling of the buildings in The Hague and in Munich Isar. LED lighting was installed in Munich PschorrHöfe. Consequently, the EPO's overall energy consumption was reduced by 10% compared to 2022, to 46 GWh, a saving equivalent to the yearly energy consumption of 632 households in Germany. Our newly implemented environmental dashboard provides comprehensive data on the energy consumption of the buildings owned by the EPO.

KPI: 10% reduction in overall EPO energy consumption in 2023 vs 2022

The EPO expanded its efforts concerning overall environmental impact, including by focusing on reducing waste and paper consumption. Waste reduction activities included offering surplus office furniture and supplies to staff in The Hague and Munich, and the extension of the e-waste pilot project on e-waste. Thanks to this , between June 2022 and June 2023 52% of our 6 000 decommissioned IT assets were either repaired or reused, and the rest were 100% recycled. As part of the EPO's digital transformation journey, further EPO forms were discontinued in 2023, leading to an estimated saving of 500 000 sheets of paper each year. Overall, 2023 saw the amount of paper procured fall to 13.8 million sheets (a reduction of 89% compared to 2019) and a record low number of 13.9 million printed sheets. This is thanks to the benefits of the increasingly digitalised PGP. 

KPI: 18% reduction in printed sheets in 2023 vs 2022

Figure 50 – Office furniture giveaway

Source: EPO

Emissions originating from staff commuting were also tackled, with the installation of electric chargers in Munich and The Hague, allowing staff to charge their electric and hybrid vehicles for free with green electricity.

Finally, increasing sustainability awareness among EPO staff was an objective in 2023. In the context of the 50 Years EPC celebrations, staff from Munich, The Hague and Vienna participated in city clean-up initiatives in co-operation with the local municipalities. Further, international events such as Earth Hour 2023, European Mobility Week, Digital Clean-Up Day and International E-Waste Day were promoted, including through staff participation and targeted social media campaigns.

Figure 51 – Come and Clean the Green" initiative

Source: EPO

Figure 52 – The Observatory's project – biennial workplan 2023-2025  

Source: EPO

The Observatory's first online event, Boosting startups with intellectual property, took place on 17 October 2023 and was well attended, with participants from 80 countries. There were 5 400 views on the day of the event and in the following weeks. The presentation of the newly published EUIPO-EPO joint study entitled "Patents, trade marks and startup finance: Funding and exit performance of European startup" provided an opportunity for experts to explore innovation, IP, funding and growth from diverse perspectives.

Another milestone for 2023 was the launch of the Deep Tech Finder, a free new digital tool for the public to explore investment-ready deep tech startups in Europe. By combining business information with patent information, the Deep Tech Finder lists innovative European startups with patent applications and presents each startup's business and investment profile. This helps potential investors detect and assess those startups bringing disruptive inventions to market in critical technology areas. By the end of 2023, the tool had featured 7 500 startups with granted European patents or European patent applications, with all startups being searchable by country, growth stage, industry, and technical field or, alternatively, by startup or investor name. In the first six months since the launch, and following targeted promotional activities at WebSummit 2023, the Deep Tech Finder has received over 10 000 views.  

KPI: 10 000+ views of the Deep Tech Finder

As part of the EPO's endeavour to make patent information more accessible to all, two studies, three case studies, and three patent insight reports were published in 2023.

Figure 53 – Accessible patent information

Source: United Nations, EPO

In 2023, a new technology platform was launched in Espacenet, making patent data more easily accessible to the public through smart searches. These combine keywords and classifications to help innovators and decision-makers identify the most significant inventions described in the 150 million patent documents in our free public patent database. The Espacenet platform on firefighting technologies was launched in May and comprises around 30 search concepts. The platform was jointly created together with experts from NPOs in Spain, Portugal, France, Greece and Italy. By the end of 2023, the platform had received more than 2 700 visits. Further, the Espacenet platform on clean energy was extended in December to cover carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies. This coincided with an expert online seminar on CCS technologies that took place on 7 December 2023, and the scope of the Deep Tech Finder tool was extended to include startups in CCS technologies too.

As the demand for patents and the volume of patent information grows, our efforts to make patent intelligence more accessible become even more crucial. The EPO's Patent Index 2023 indicated a record demand for patents at the EPO, with growth driven by the rise of innovation in digital and clean energy technologies. This reflects the level of trust that innovators around the world place in the EPO's high-quality products and services. The positive public impact of a sustainable patent system is further shown by communications around the Patent Index 2023 receiving record media coverage, with an Advertising Value Equivalent (AVE) of EUR 24.7 million, and the social media campaign reaching over 2.5 million users

While the Observatory has a focus on encouraging startups, SMEs and universities to innovate, the European Inventor Network focuses on interacting with school students to open to them the world of innovation. Both initiatives therefore go hand in hand, one supporting and one inspiring the next generation of inventors. The European Inventor Network, launched in July 2023, aims to promote innovation and creativity among children and young people. At the end of 2023, the Network comprised over 200 former finalists of the European Inventor Award and Young Inventors Prize. In 2023, the EPO initiated the first "call for activities" within the network, enabling these inventors to seek financial support to visit schools and engage with students on innovation. Implementation of the activities given a grant has started and will continue until the end of 2024. Feedback from schools has so far been excellent, with students particularly appreciating the way in which inventors directly share their innovation insights.

Figure 54 – European Inventor Network: call for activities

Source: EPO

Finally, the EPO's flagship European Inventor Award and Young Inventors Prize once again promoted the benefits of innovation for society. The 2023 award ceremony was streamed live from Valencia, Spain and reached a record audience and a record coverage across print and online media outlets, social media, TV and radio.

KPI: 25 000+ views of the 2023 award ceremony, 28+ million users reached on social media, 4 500+ media reports generated

Figure 55 – Winners of the Young Inventors Prize 2023

Source: EPO

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Governance and transparency

The EPO strives to enhance its governance and transparency by engaging with its stakeholders, reporting on its performance and modernising its external governance, in line with global best practices and standards.

In 2023, the EPO aligned its corporate reporting to the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) standards, the most widely used framework for sustainability reporting. A new user-friendly transparency portal was launched on the EPO's website in September to provide easy access to various information and documents, such as the EPO's strategy, annual reports, financial statements, policies, audits and statistics.

Moreover, the EPO adopted and prepared for the implementation of our Document Retention Policy, which governs paper and electronic files and defines their retention periods and disposal procedures. After gradual implementation during the transitional period in 2023, all measures were in place at the end of the year for full application as of 1 January 2024.

The EPO's certifications in ISO 9001, ISO 45001 and ISO 27001 were renewed in 2023, confirming once more the Office's commitment to delivering high-quality products and services (ISO 9001), safeguarding health and safety (ISO 45001), and protecting the information and data entrusted to us (ISO 27001). Aligning with these internationally recognised standards helps the EPO to continuously improve and strive towards operational excellence.

KPI: 100% ISO certification achieved

Applying the "plan-do-check-act" cycle for improvement, the EPO gathered feedback from around 1 400 colleagues on seven internal services: IT, finance, procurement, general administration, language service, internal audit and communication. The feedback was used to identify strengths and areas for improvement and to design action plans for each service.

Additionally, the Handbook for Workplace Ethics, launched in November 2022, serves as a cornerstone to foster a culture of integrity and accountability among all staff at the EPO. Awareness activities in 2023 have focused on bringing the handbook to life in hybrid sessions with staff (close to 600 attendees), training programmes (for newcomers and first-time managers), workshops on demand (on the prevention of conflict of interest) and the dissemination of learning materials. The handbook supports value-driven behaviours that protect EPO people, assets and reputation and promotes workplace ethics as an integral part of daily operations. It not only reinforces EPO values at work but also helps mitigate compliance and liability risks related to integrity.

Finally, 2023 saw a series of milestones being delivered as part of the modernisation of the EPO's external governance, rendering the working arrangements, organisational setup and procedural rules of the Administrative Council and its subsidiary bodies more robust, effective, modern and transparent. Of the three baskets of measures identified, two were fully delivered in 2023. The first included various amendments to the Council's Rules of Procedure; improvements to the preparation, organisation and conduct of Council meetings to give delegations more time to prepare for and engage in discussions of a strategic nature; and the adoption of policies for the publication of, and access to, Council documents. The second introduced a range of technical improvements such as upgraded infrastructure of the Council's conference room, a modernised MICADO and new templates for Council documents.

The Office also began preparations on a third basket, such as conceptualising the way forward for codifying the appointment and reappointment procedures for the President and the Vice-Presidents; scoping a potential Code of Conduct for the Council and its subsidiary bodies; and exploratory work with the TOSC Chairperson on future proposals for updating and consolidating the TOSC's mandate and working arrangements.

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Financial sustainability

Financial sustainability is a prerequisite for the EPO’s ability to have a positive impact on society. In 2023, the EPO continued to monitor its financial situation, in particular with a new Financial Study.

To improve the EPO's budget oversight, the EPO implemented the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) standardised view in its budget documents. This provides a comprehensive and consistent picture of the EPO's financial position and performance, while increasing transparency and the comparability of the EPO's financial performance with other organisations.

The EPO continued to monitor the coverage ratio in 2023, which measures the ratio between the financial assets of the EPO Reserve Funds for Pensions and Social Security (RFPSS), EPO Treasury Investment Fund (EPOTIF), cash and its long-term liabilities (pension and social security debt). Despite the negative effects of the financial markets and high inflation, the coverage ratio reached 76.6% in December 2023, thanks to the bundle of measures adopted in 2020 to reduce the EPO's financial risks.

Finally, the first phase of the Financial Study 2023 was completed, and the outcomes were presented to the EPO's governing bodies in the last quarter of 2023. The Financial Study aims to provide insights and recommendations for the EPO's strategic decision-making and budget planning. Phase I of the study analysed the EPO's financial situation. Its main findings were first that the measures implemented since 2020 have yielded positive impacts within the expected margins. Second, the EPO's finances are expected to further perform favourably, with a significant coverage surplus of EUR 4.2 billion by the end of 2042 under the assumptions in the base case scenario. However, analysis of the sensitivities shows high vulnerability to market volatility, especially inflation. The Office should therefore further drive operational excellence to the cash surplus. Phase II, focusing on risk monitoring and mitigation measures reducing the identified vulnerabilities, will continue in 2024.

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