Key achievements: Goal 5
Goal 5 – Secure long-term sustainability
In 2022, the EPO continued its efforts to shape a sustainable future with good progress in the implementation of the Strategic Plan 2023 (SP2023). We monitored the impact and benefits of our activities under SP2023 via the balanced scorecard key performance indicators (KPIs).
Figure 41 – Balanced Scorecard with end of 2022 figures
Figure 42 – Detailed indicators derived from the staff engagement survey
The EPO's success starts with engaged, knowledgeable and collaborative people. In 2022, the three balanced scorecard KPIs relevant to staff engagement, training and development, and collaboration were expanded into a dedicated dashboard showing the results from the 2022 staff engagement survey to emphasise their importance. These results showed improvements in 10 out of 13 categories compared to the 2019 survey. Positive areas included empowerment, diversity and inclusion, collaboration, agility and flexibility.
Alongside engaged people, our digital transformation is another pillar of our success. In terms of simplifying and modernising the EPO's IT systems, 2022 saw good progress in important KPIs on the availability of our tools – reaching an excellence level of 97% – and on the digitalisation of our processes – improving to 85.9% by the end of 2022.
These are the building blocks for the quality of our products and services. At the end of 2022 we achieved 80.7% compliance in the quality of our searches and grants, while 78.6% of examinations were delivered on-time.
The EPO does not operate in isolation: strengthening our network of partners across the globe is key for the long-term sustainability of both the EPO and the European patent system. Towards that goal, the EPO's geographical reach grew to 2.12 billion people worldwide and the outreach of our patent information resources increased significantly to more than 16 million users. All this was achieved in close cooperation with our member states, whose participation in co-operation projects was at to 80% in 2022.
All of these goals contribute to securing the EPO's long-term sustainability: environmental sustainability, organisational impact, financial sustainability and societal impact. In terms of the top KPIs in these areas, environmental indicators like paper consumption continued to show significant improvements in 2022, building on gains made during the pandemic, and we achieved our central objective for good governance: 100% coverage of our operations by ISO certification. The key indicator for the EPO's financial sustainability, the coverage ratio, was impacted by global negative trends in the financial markets during 2022, ending the year at 70.7%.
- Environmental sustainability
The EPO has committed to become a net zero organisation by 2030, translating our ambition into meaningful and measurable actions, and recognising the urgency of the climate crisis. Our aim is to contribute to the world's transition to a lower carbon future and the global achievement of the UN SDGs.
Actions to reduce the EPO's environmental footprint
In 2022, with the aim of progressively addressing all our emissions, direct and indirect, originated along the value chain, we have extended the scope of the emissions reported according to the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol Corporate standard to three additional Scope 3 categories. These are "Capital goods", "Waste generated in operations" and "Transportation and distribution".
The EPO's gross GHG reported emissions show great progress towards our 2030 goal reduction. We closed 2022 with a historically low level of emissions: below 4 000 t CO2e. Compared to 2021, our overall emissions were reduced by around 713 t CO2e, equivalent to the emissions associated with the electricity production in 618 households in the Netherlands for a year. Reductions achieved were primarily the result of the implemented Action Plan 2022 combined with the energy savings from temperature adjustment in all EPO buildings, in response to the emergency plan calling for 15% voluntary energy savings by the EC. These energy savings were met.
Other measures to make our buildings more sustainable included introducing a start/stop automation control in the escalators in the Munich Isar building and improving the thermal insulation of incoming district heating in our Isar and PschorrHöfe buildings. All of these measures counterbalanced the emissions increase due to the reopening of our premises when COVID-19 restrictions eased and the extension in scope of GHG reported emissions.
In line with our commitment to a healthy circular ecosystem supporting UN SDG12 (responsible consumption and production), we organised donations of office furniture to employees and local charities at our sites in in Munich, Vienna, and Berlin. In addition, with the new e-waste service, we could reuse and repair around 50% of our 4 200 decommissioned devices and recycle the rest.
With the launch of NWoW in September 2022, our employees are offered a hybrid working environment with flexibility on where they choose to work. With this new reality, it is our environmental responsibility to adapt our buildings and reorganise workspaces in a more sustainable manner, reducing energy needs and related emissions, while keeping our buildings vibrant and strengthening our sense of belonging.
The NWoW scheme also offers the possibility to optimise the time spent commuting or avoid it entirely when working from home. When travelling, we promote sustainable mobility, recognising and respecting that we all have different needs that evolve in time according to our personal situation. For employees who still need to drive to work, a transition to more sustainable solutions is supported by offering the possibility to charge electric vehicles at the office premises for free. To this end, in 2022, 8% of our parking spaces were equipped with chargers for electric vehicles, and it is planned to extend the capacity to 20% of total parking spaces by the end of 2023.
In 2022, we also launched the Vienna Green Hub project to construct a carbon negative building (in operation), the flagship of many initiatives towards achieving carbon neutrality by 2030.
Progress in digital transformation continued to contribute to a significant reduction in the EPO's paper consumption. In 2022, printing reached a record low of 17.5 million sheets, constituting a decrease of over 30% compared to 2021. The corresponding 7.8 million sheets saved equals a pile of paper standing at 506 metres – 4.7 times the height of the EPO's Main building in The Hague.
With the "on demand" printing of examination and search files, which gives examiners control over which file they want to receive, doing away with unnecessary printing of paper files, the number of requested search and examination files went down by 29% from 2021 to 2022 (from 28 400 files to 20 250 files), and only in around 10% of the searches and 9.4% of examination files do examiners work with a paper file.
Given the enormous reduction in demand and volume, around 160 000 paper files in the Munich central file stores located in the Isar building and PschorrHöfe Part VIII could be moved to an off-site location allowing the vacated on-site space to be used for other purposes.
While reducing our stocks, in 2022 we only procured 13 million sheets of paper, about 110 million fewer sheets than in 2019 when SP2023 was launched, a reduction of over 89%.
The progressive adoption of MyEPO Portfolio, our web-based online service for parties to proceedings before the EPO, and the extension of its functionalities, will contribute further to this endeavour. Since 2018 we have progressed from sending 78% of documents on paper to sending 52% via online services (Mailbox) in 2022, saving a significant amount of paper.
Figure 43 – Reduction of paper communications
Sustainability of ICT
As a knowledge-intensive organisation, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sustainability is an essential aspect of the EPO's environmental performance. We strive to choose environmentally friendly options and find sustainable and efficient ways to operate them. To this end, we adopted eco-design best practices in the development of digital services, starting with the new intranet and the new external website, which were successfully audited. We also launched a carbon footprint dashboard to monitor the carbon footprint of the Google Cloud service used by the EPO; we plan to gradually extend the scope to other cloud service providers in 2023.
Since 2009, the EPO has been certified as complying with the Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) at Munich Isar, Munich PschorrHöfe, The Hague, Vienna, and Berlin and this was re-confirmed in 2022. In 2023, we will continue our work to become a net zero organisation by 2030 with an action plan of measures for positive changes. We will further extend the scope of the emissions reported according to GHG Protocol Corporate standard to additional Scope 3 categories including goods and services we purchase, and strengthen our green procurement, in line with our commitment to a safer, smarter, and more sustainable world.
- Organisational impact
Good governance, both internal and external, is another important aspect of the EPO's long-term sustainability and vital for a public institution that delivers benefits for society at large. The EPO aims to ensure that we meet the highest standards of organisational governance, with clear best practices and guidelines applied consistently. External certifications and ISO standards help us to continuously improve our activities and achieve operational excellence.
Aiming to increase the consistency and effectiveness of our internal processes, not only those regulating the patent granting activities, in 2022 we achieved our KPI of 100% ISO certification, by extending the scope of our quality management system (QMS) to services such as finance, procurement, human resources, legal affairs, international co-operation, infrastructure, and IT. Our ISO 9001 certification now covers effectively the entire Office, extending our commitment to excellence to all areas of our work. As a responsible employer, we set up an occupational health and safety management system (OHSMS) which in 2020 obtained a certification under ISO 45001. In September 2022, external auditors reconfirmed the OHSMS effectiveness with a regular surveillance audit. In 2022, the EPO also achieved certification for its information security management system that is aligned with the most up-to-date best practices and fulfils the requirements of ISO 27001 (see Goal 2 for further details).
Learning also from the experience gathered during the pandemic, the EPO put in place a structured business continuity management system (BCMS), launching a dedicated framework and portal in December 2022. The BCMS allows the Office to respond more effectively to threats and disruptions, with the safety and well-being of staff as the highest priority. It includes specific business continuity plans to resume EPO business processes in a controlled way in case of disruption.
Modernising the EPO's external governance is a crucial element in ensuring the EPO's long-term sustainability, one of the main objectives of the SP2023. Extensive preparatory work on identifying areas of improvement for the EPO's external governance started in 2021 and was continued throughout 2022, aiming at enhancing the transparency and efficiency of the set-up of the Organisation, adjusting the Council's Rules of Procedure, and modernising the Council's technological infrastructure.
In February 2022, the Chairperson of the Council launched a consultation process with the Contracting States, inviting delegations to provide their feedback on an orientation paper putting forward specific ideas on how to modernise the EPO's governance. The feedback received from the delegations was analysed and taken into account, and a summary presented to the Administrative Council in June 2022. In October 2022 the Council approved a roadmap for the modernisation of the EPO's external governance (CA/C 15/22) which envisaged a number of steps, divided into three "baskets" in line with the priorities identified by the delegations.
In November and December 2022 work on the preparation of measures proposed under Basket I focusing on strategic, governance-related amendments to the EPO's legal framework and policy issues in various fields commenced, facilitated by the active involvement of the Board of the Administrative Council. Detailed proposals were discussed by the Board in November 2022. The feedback indicated the need to refine the proposals for submission to the Council for its opinion in March 2023.
In parallel to the preparatory measures undertaken for Basket I, the measures foreseen under Basket II have already started to be implemented in the second half of 2022. These measures are predominantly operational in nature and focus, among other things, on modernising the Council's technological infrastructure.
- Financial sustainability
Securing the EPO's financial sustainability is fundamental for the Office's overall long-term sustainability as a self-funded organisation which aims to have a lasting positive impact on the patent system and society. The EPO continues to monitor its financial situation and consolidate the implementation of the six financial sustainability measures adopted in 2020.
The coverage ratio, the main KPI for the EPO's financial sustainability, has been subject to constant monitoring and reached 70.7% as at December 2022. The coverage ratio is 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). It went down from 87.9% in December 2021 to 70.7% in December 2022 due to a reduction in financial assets (EUR 2.1 billion losses in the value of assets following the deterioration of the financial markets in the course of 2022) and an increase in liabilities. The increase in liabilities is mainly driven by the increase in pensions owed to staff and pensioners due to the high (on average 10.8%) salary and pension adjustment decided in the December 2022 meeting of the Administrative Council.
The six financial sustainability measures have been regularly monitored:The New Salary Adjustment Method is expected to generate a gain of about EUR 2 billion over the long run by introducing a cap over the Eurozone inflation (cap of 0.2%). Thanks to the introduction of the cap, the pension owed to staff and pensioners could be re-evaluated downward and reduced by about EUR 1 billion as of December 2022. However, the high Eurozone inflation in 2022 led to a one-off significant increase of the salary and pension tables, which in turn increased the liabilities by about EUR 1.2 billion and compensated for the gain realised. In other words, the measure has all in all brought a positive effect of EUR 1 billion so far but the extraordinary macro-economic circumstances in recent years beyond the reach of the Office, such as the exceptionally high inflation, have unfortunately eliminated the impact at this stage. The adaptation of the contribution rates to pensions follows the regular biennial funding studies which have led to a 3.3% increase as of 2020, with a positive financial impact of EUR 28 million by the end of 2022. A further 0.9% increase in the contributions to the pension and social security schemes, as of 1 January 2023, has been implemented.
Beyond the six measures evaluated above, in the EPO investment funds activities, a study was performed in 2022 to identify possible options for the integration of ESG criteria in the investment process of the RFPSS, with a parallel implementation of consistent criteria for the EPOTIF. The implementation is expected to start in late 2023.
- The biennial inflation-based fee adjustment of 3% for procedural fees except PCT introduced as of 1 April 2022, has so far generated about EUR 21 million additional income. A further adjustment, for an exceptional increase of 5%, was decided in 2022 and will take place as of 1 April 2023 to partially cover the historically high level of inflation. This will avoid a double-digit fee adjustment in April 2024.
- Digitalisation of the end-to-end PGP is well underway (see Goal 2) and significant benefits are expected for users (overall impact EUR 1.2 billion). As of the end of 2022, the EPO estimated such benefits at EUR 0.7 billion.
- As regards the investment of part of the annual cash surplus in EPOTIF (overall impact EUR 1 billion), a total of EUR 250 million was transferred to EPOTIF in 2021 and EUR 80 million in 2022.
- Finally, as regards the one-off investments of part of the annual cash surplus in the RFPSS (overall impact EUR 0.8 billion), EUR 150 million was transferred to the RFPSS in 2021 and a further transfer of EUR 196 million was executed for 2022.
- Societal impact
All of the EPO's activities ultimately aim to have a positive impact on society. Innovation provides solutions to humanity's greatest challenges, contributing to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) and a safer, smarter, and more sustainable world. The EPO reaches out to all its stakeholders: inventors, investors, policy makers, researchers, scientists, and the public at large. We share patent knowledge across the globe, giving easy access to state-of-the-art patent data to help innovators to solve puzzles and take innovation further. In 2022, our studies, events and platforms contributed to eight UN SDGs, and the main communications on our sustainability activities received almost 316 000 visits.
Figure 44 – United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in focus in 2022
Source: United Nations
An important milestone for maximising our positive impact on society was achieved in 2022 with significant progress in the set-up of the new Observatory on Patents and Technology. The Observatory will contribute to a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of important issues related to the future of innovation and technology, and their impact on the patent system. Building on rich feedback gathered from an online public consultation, the concept was refined in close collaboration with the EPO’s member states. The comprehensive proposal for the set-up and blueprint of the Observatory (CA/47/22) was received positively by the EPO Administrative Council in June 2022.
The Office then laid the groundwork for an efficient and inclusive new Observatory, starting to build up the Observatory network and gather ideas and topics across the Office for the first biennial workplan proposal. Guided by a number of specific principles (evidenced-based approach, transparency, diversity, inclusiveness, collaboration, and subsidiarity), the Observatory's activity will be structured along three streams: technology intelligence, legal and innovation policies, and diversity and transformation. A new external consultation was planned for early 2023, ahead of the Observatory's official start in the second half of 2023.
The EPO published a number of studies in 2022 contributing to various UN SDGs, often in partnership with other organisations.
Looking at UN SDG 5: gender equality, our study on "Women in inventive activity" highlighted the need for change, as fewer than one in seven inventors in Europe are women. A series of virtual roundtables on "Women and IP innovation" were organised with outstanding women inventors and patent professionals discussing enhancing women's contributions to innovation. This campaign reached 42 481 viewers on social media.
In partnership with the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), a patent insight report on "Innovation trends in electrolysers for hydrogen production", was published revealing the patent filing trends. Linked to UN SDG 7: affordable and clean energy, it reached over 22 000 users.
The fourth edition of our joint study with the EUIPO on "IPR-intensive industries and economic performance in the European Union" showed that intellectual property fosters 82 million jobs in the EU, contributing to UN SDG 8: decent work and economic growth. It reached about 22 680 users on social media.
Figure 45 – EPO's publications relevant to UN SDGs
Two studies provided useful insights towards UN SDG 9: industry, innovation, and infrastructure. First, a joint study by the EPO and the European Investment Bank (EIB), "Deep tech innovation in smart connected technologies", identified the unique obstacles that small businesses face in developing advanced digital technologies in the European Union. Despite impressive patent activity, Europe's small deep tech businesses still lag behind their US counterparts. This study reached about 15 514 users on social media.
Second, a new joint study by the EPO, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the European Space Policy Institute (ESPI) revealed a rapid growth of patent filings in space-borne sensing and green applications. This study highlighted the use of space-borne sensing as an indispensable tool for effectively implementing green policies and objectives. This report reached nearly 15 000 users.
Finally, the study on "The European patent system and the grace period" addressed how users respond to the grace period for patents. It found that European EPO applicants generally manage to comply with the novelty requirement, although universities experience more frequent issues than other entities due to pre-filing disclosures. This study reached some 15 262 users on social media and reinforces UN SDG 16: justice, strong institutions.
The EPO's Espacenet platforms contain easily accessible smart searches, combining keywords and classifications, to help innovators and decision-makers to quickly identify the most important inventions and documents among millions, in the pursuit of solutions. This initiative also reflects the patent system's broader role of encouraging investment in scientific and technological breakthroughs for the benefit of all.
Our Fighting Coronavirus Platform, launched in 2020, was updated in 2022 for the second time, with the addition of 42 new smart searches, offering a total of 350 search strategies to academics, innovators, and researchers, reflecting the rapidly changing technology landscape in the struggle against the pandemic. This platform was accessed almost 78 000 times since its launch and contributes to UN SDG3: good health and well-being.
We also launched our new platform on Clean Energy technologies in 2022, aiming to help innovators develop green tech solutions to safeguard our planet. With an initial selection of 60 ready-made smart searches, innovators are enabled to quickly navigate a large number of patent documents in a targeted manner, in order to build upon existing green innovative solutions and contribute to UN SDG 7: affordable and clean energy.
Aside from these platforms, the EPO continued to share patent knowledge extensively worldwide with academics, inventors, researchers, and scientists via our patent information tools: Espacenet, the European Patent Register and the European Publication Server. Free access to user-friendly patent tools brings patent knowledge to millions who are guided to develop novel inventions for the benefit of humankind. Continuously accessible patent tools also contribute to the quality of education (UN SDG 4), decent work and economic growth (UN SDG 8), and to industry, innovation, and infrastructure (UN SDG 9).
The EPO also organises events to reach out to our stakeholders and promote the benefits of innovation for society.
To address the global challenge of ridding the planet of plastic waste, the first ever public coding competition was launched in November, aiming to develop creative and reliable AI models for automating the identification of patents related to green plastics, and making the know-how in patents concerning green plastics more readily available to innovators everywhere. This initiative, contributing to UN SDG 12: responsible production and consumption, was followed by over 1 300 viewers.
With a hybrid ceremony for the 2022 European Inventor Award, the breadth and depth of innovation was once more honoured, celebrating winners shining a path forward to a more promising future. Young inventors were also celebrated, with the inaugural Young Inventors Prize. The event promotes the benefits of innovation and inventors for the good of society and the economy in Europe.
Figure 46 – European Inventor Award 2022 – key figures