Monday, November 17, 2008

Presentation details severe confidence crisis at the European Patent Office

What follows is the text of a presentation detailing the crisis conditions at the European Patent Office, with both management and examiners being increasingly miserable. The same memo could be written about the U.S. Patent Office. Look folks, I do not make this stuff up - I can't afford to drink that much Beaujolais to do so. We have massive engineering workflow institutions (PTO, EPO) on the verge of collapse. Is the IP world totally devoid of leadership for someone to step forward and .... lead? We face a perfect storm of troubles: - incompetent people appointed to high management positions - lack of accountability quality, imposed costs/fees, and productivity - legislatures ignoring their oversight role while getting milking the system for lobbyist dollars - courts blatant with their contempt for science, technology and semantics in their decisions - "professional" bodies (AIPLA/IPO/AIPPI/ABA) devoid of leadership The result: despite the outright lies of Jon Dudas and his foreign counterparts - patent quality continues to drop, patent fees continue to rise, patent pendency continues to rise, and more. The next head of the PTO has to be a true, competent, professional leader. Or let's just take 35 USC off the books. So as you read what follows, ask yourself: where has been any leadership in the IP world that we have arrived at management memos as below? This is the text of a presentation given by a management representative, not from a Union representative. You be the judge: The EPO as an organisation has moved from duality to crisis. We will explain how and why and will describe the steps that are necessary to reconstruct a common culture and a positive social partnership. A dual organisation. The sociological analysis based on the results of the human capital survey of 2006 had shown that the EPO was a dual organisation; a dysfunctional system that finds its equilibrium in the creation of two separate universes; - the "executive management universe" focused on a defensible production level, defensible backlogs, and a defensible financial situation, and - the "operational universe" focused on staff autonomy, intellectual content of the work and existing working conditions (Salary, benefits and job security) These focus points are essential to maintain a balance. A change in one or more of these conditions would jeopardize the status quo. This is exactly what has happened. Change of the conditions of the duality. Management expressed strong concerns about the production level, strong concerns about the increasing backlogs and strong concerns about the financial situation. On the operational side, one felt some pressure on the autonomy (more control tools, micromanagement, lack of trust), some fear concerning the intellectual content of the work (e.g., the possible mutual recognition with other players having a lower quality or the delegation of activities to national Offices) and a high level of fear concerning working conditions (the pension system revision being often considered as the first step to multiple changes of the working conditions.). With the disappearance of all conditions necessary to maintain the equilibrium of the duality, the EPO could only slip into crisis. Characteristics of the crisis. Work is valued but the organisation is not trusted. The work as such is a source of positive feelings. Experienced as interesting, rich and motivating it is considered as a service of quality for others. But the organisation (including all actors from management to staff representation and union representatives) is the subject of negative feelings and perceptions. Contradictory information influenced by clearly opposed point of views harm the capacity of the people to understand issues properly. Consequently they loose their common references and don't know "who" or "what" to trust anymore. Negative collective perception of change. The crisis is a disturbance of the capacity to perceive reality. All actors have a subjective perception of how the world works. Because of the differences between these subjective perceptions, change is collectively seen as a source of disorder and contradiction. At an individual level the organisation is perceived as a threat. At an individual level, change is perceived as elusive, irrational and distressing. It is felt to be change for change's sake or even worse, for individual and personal benefits and careers. The lack of a clean break with the past and the absence of future perspectives create a psychological confusion that express itself either as a complete lack of interest in the change process or as clear opposition to it. Mutual "demonisation" of the actors. For all actors, the system has become threatening and impossible to master. The energy of frustration is diverted to an excessive personalisation of collective problems. Opposed actors become mutual "scapegoats". For the Union, the executive management is the only source of problems and has all possible flaws. For the executive management the union is the major threat to the good functioning of the organisation. The actors are totally dominated by these negative emotions. "Lies", "incompetence", "hidden agenda"; are words that are becoming common in the organisation vocabulary. Incapacity to imagine the future. The individual and collective capacity to dissociate oneself from the present in order to imagine the future is "anaesthetised" by the crisis. Fatalism is omnipresent and one can easily observe a clear absence of real alternative thinking about the functioning of the organisation. How to come out of the crisis? Shared values have disappeared and constructive communication has become impossible. Reason and common sense have been replaced by negative emotions and systemic distrust. Attempts to communicate and to explain methodically turn into conflict. Every action (even the most positive) is interpreted through the filter of negativism and transformed into a potential threat. Subjectivity dominates and everything consolidates the negative perception. "The more you try, the worse it becomes". The problem seems therefore quite unsolvable and can only be addressed through radical and unusual ACTIONS supported by formal AND informal steps framed to transform the system. Step 1: Take the pressure off by acknowledging the crisis. First the intangible but enormous fear and pressure felt by almost everyone has to disappear. The only way to do it is to say "STOP", make a step backward and get a common acknowledgement of the crisis by all actors. Only the President can initiate this. In the present atmosphere, a declaration of intent will not be sufficient. The current global scepticism would transform it in "one more useless speech". It has to come with an important decision that would show an indisputable determination to REALLY tackle the crisis. For example, put the SRP on hold and revise it in the frame of step 2 would be a major sign. Step 2: Back to the essentials Once people agree about the crisis it will be necessary to go back to what could be called "the essentials". What are we? What is our purpose? Why do we exist? What does society expect from us? Through the crisis the very identity of the organisation has been lost and the essentials have to be reintroduced as a foundation for the reconstruction of a common culture which is the first step of the re-appropriation process. We need to be professional, proud and ambitious together. We need to reconcile quality of product and quality of process; how can we apply the EPC, maintain and even increase the quality while reducing the backlogs? How can we show and increase the importance of our role for the future of Europe? These questions should now be asked and answered by each and every one of us. Step 3: Redesign a vision for the future based on these essentials. When the two first steps are done, the presentation of an inspirational image of the future will be the way to move forward as a united Organisation. But this vision of the future (and this does not refer to "The vision" formal tool designed professionally as part of a process) has to be based on the rediscovered essentials defined by all actors of the Organisation. Obviously the President of the Office will have to become the "Champion" defending this vision, the Champion of our Quality and the first representative of the EPO's significance for the future of Europe. Conclusion These three necessary steps will not be easily implemented. It will require courage, imagination, a good understanding of the crisis, commitment, lots of perseverance and possibly the capacity to act against one's own current conviction for a higher purpose. But unless it is done, the Office, lost in its identity crisis, won't get a chance to move forward taking thereby the risk to leave its future in someone else's hands.