23 July 2021
Today the European Patent Office (EPO) published "Towards a new normal", an orientation document to explore how the Office can capitalise on new opportunities in a potentially post-COVID-19 era.
In the midst of a rapidly changing social and economic landscape, as the pandemic continues to impact the way we live and work, the aim is to ensure as far as possible that both users and staff fully benefit from new emerging possibilities. The document therefore proposes how we can build on the new levels of flexibility and new ways of collaborating achieved during the pandemic, at the same time as preserving a strong sense of the EPO community.
EPO President António Campinos said: "We're talking about moving from an Office that has been entirely office-based since day one, to a set-up that offers far more flexibility, takes advantage of a digital environment and hybrid way of working, and yet still maintains our sense of belonging."
"Towards a new normal" draws on the results of a four-week period of public consultation in March and April 2021. During this time, member states, user associations and staff provided feedback on an initial draft document itself based on two extensive staff surveys conducted in May and September 2020.
The shared vision of a brighter, digital future complements the goals of the EPO's Strategic Plan 2023. The vision is based on three pillars: teleworking, an increasingly digital environment and a revised buildings strategy.
The new teleworking policy now being developed is intended to introduce greater simplicity and more flexibility. The EPO is now looking to develop a pilot that could be implemented in early 2022 and would introduce a maximum percentage of time for teleworking; with caps proposed for both teleworking within the country of employment and abroad in other European Patent Convention countries.
While the Office will continue to work towards a fully digital end-to-end patent granting process, more emphasis will be put on hybrid working. The vision includes everything from a reformed data protection policy, as adopted in the recent Administrative Council, to pressing ahead with cloud-based services with 24/7 availability. This means that the accessibility, functionality and range of the EPO's high-quality digital services will continue to improve, from online filing, the EPO Mailbox and oral proceedings by videoconference (VICO) to virtual events, training and professional qualifications such as the digital European Qualifying Exam (e-EQE).
The EPO's buildings are considered integral to the Office's future. The EPO will therefore retain these buildings and concentrate on how they can be used to the greatest effect and for the benefit of all stakeholders. In addition to maintenance and sustainability measures for our existing premises, a full renovation of the Vienna building is planned. Full and hybrid VICO facilities for both internal and external meetings will be a key consideration in any changes to the Office's buildings.
On 29 June, the document was presented to the organisation's Administrative Council with a view to gradually implementing any new policies going forward. It represents a commitment to continue the SP2023 journey in close consultation with the EPO's stakeholders. More detailed proposals will follow where required, which will take careful consideration of our obligations to our staff and our member states, and any related legal considerations.