17 February 2015
Last year was a milestone for the EPO’s Quality Management System (QMS). It was the culmination of several years of work in a variety of areas – implementing and refining measurements, establishing operational quality controls, documenting procedures and internal auditing of the QMS process. We crowned these efforts at the end of 2014 with the successful achievement of ISO 9001 certification for our patent granting process. Quality continues to have, as always, a very high priority at the EPO. Our QMS runs successfully thanks to strong commitment from top management and operations. It helps to further increase the Office’s efficiency and supports our strategy to remain the global leader with regard to the quality of patent products and services. An annual review of the EPO’s QMS is essential to ensure its continuing suitability, adequacy and effectiveness. Hence in January we reviewed last year’s quality objectives, indicators and overall results in consultation with several stakeholders.
First, it seems that we continue to meet most of our users’ expectations. Indeed the user satisfaction surveys clearly established that search and examination services have reached and even exceeded the ambitious targets set. In general 78% of the users who participated in the survey were satisfied or very satisfied with the quality of these products (up from 73% in 2013). Furthermore, there was also a significant improvement in user perception of patent administration services (80% satisfied or very satisfied compared to 74% in 2013).
The introduction of the online complaints form has helped users to provide valuable feedback to the Office. As a result, the total number of complaints doubled, with a significant increase in complaints relating to non-operational departments for which there had previously been no formal means to raise issues. Nevertheless, considering the scale of our operations, the total number of complaints has remained very low (roughly 400). The active monitoring of the status of responses has assisted operations to improve their reaction time. Because one quarter of complaints concern timeliness specific attention will be dedicated to this issue. In this regard, we expect a lot from the priority scheme known as ‘Early Certainty from Search’ (ECfS), introduced in July 2014, which aims to ensure that all searches with written opinions are issued within six months from receipt of the search request at the Office. With the increasing operation of ECfS, average case pendency per examiner is expected to reduce dramatically. Meeting promised dates in Requests for Accelerated Examination (RAEX) will receive particular attention in 2015.
I have already reported our efforts to incorporate 100% of the available Asian prior art from China, Japan and Korea into our databases. In 2014 the internal use of this documentation in our search and examination processes has dramatically increased. This rise is the result of both changes in the accessibility of Asian patent literature and examiners broadening their search strategies. In 2015, the EPO will be extending its prior art collections to include more Indian and Russian documentation.
The EPO continues to work closely with other international authorities and WIPO on developing metrics which will enable individual offices to assess the effectiveness of the PCT system and help identify areas where improvements could be made. The recent meeting of the PCT authorities in Tokyo from 4 to 6 February, the so-called MIA, was a good opportunity to remind ourselves of the need for renewed collective efforts to raise the quality of PCT products. The EPO is the main provider of PCT searches and examinations, and will continue to address quality amongst PCT partners as a matter of priority. Within the European Patent Network, some patent offices have expressed their wish to exchange information on the implementation and maintenance of quality management systems – I can of course only support and welcome this.
Improving the quality of products and services relies not just upon tools and systems, but also staff – our most valuable resource. Following the implementation of the new career and performance system at the EPO, adopted last December by the Administrative Council, individual quality objectives for examiners and patent administration staff were introduced at the beginning of 2015. This process will cascade the challenging but achievable higher level quality objectives to individuals in an efficient and harmonised manner.
Moreover, based on the experience gained from the ISO 9001 certification for our patent granting process, our historically important patent information services will be the next area incorporated into our quality management system.
Much has been achieved, but this would never be grounds for complacency. Challenging quality targets will drive our efforts in 2015, and I believe our users demand and deserve nothing less.