The news that António Campinos has been chosen to succeed Benoît Battistelli as president of the European Patent Office should not have come as a huge surprise to IAM’s readers. We predicted it might happen back in July. But the speed of the appointment is perhaps a little unexpected. It’s only just over three months since the job prospectus was posted on the EPO website; so perhaps the Administrative Council of the European Patent Organisation really did have the executive director of the EU IP Office lined up all the time.
Of course, there is always a protocol to go through with these things and to get the job Campinos had to be elected. That meant he also had to have an opponent and when it came to Tuesday’s council vote it seems that the Portuguese was up against Cuno Tarfusser, a judge at the International Criminal Court. The Italian is undoubtedly a distinguished jurist, but with no discernible IP background there was only going to be one result. Another indication, perhaps, that the president’s job was always going to go to Campinos.
That said, he also seems to have shone in front of council members when he addressed them. Talking to IAM’s sister publication World Trademark Review, Richard Messinger, president of the Slovakian Intellectual Property Office, said: “Slovakia was impressed by the outstanding presentation given by Mr Campinos on his vision about the future functioning of the EPO, as well as his insight and knowledge of its functions and challenges. Social dialogue, continuous improvement of quality of services and products, total digitalisation of the office to further optimise the lengths of the patent granting and opposition procedures, were among the most relevant areas tackled. When it comes to roles of the EPC contracting countries, we were satisfied to hear that the principles of complementarity and subsidiarity will be further enhanced by means of cooperation initiatives.”
Battistelli is not due to leave his position until 30th June 2018, so Campinos will succeed him on 1st July. When he does he will certainly have one huge task on his hands and potentially another one as well. The absolute certainty is that he will have a lot of healing to do.
As we have chronicled over the years, Battistelli’s relationship with some parts of the EPO examiner corps has deteriorated to a point where it is hard to see how it could be worse. In seeking greater productivity and changing working conditions, the current president has been accused of putting the quality of the office’s output at risk, demoralising staff and even, in some cases, driving them to suicide. Several senior members of the union SUEPO have been dismissed from their posts and strikes have become a regular occurrence. Administrative Council members were reportedly given another reminder of how fractious things are in a presentation made by a staff representative during their meeting earlier this week.
For Campinos the challenge will be to repair relationships with unhappy examiners while also ensuring that the output gains secured by the Battistelli regime are not lost. In every IAM benchmarking survey ever conducted the EPO has always been seen by respondents as the IP5 office offering the highest quality patents and the best service – that reputation must not be squandered; but the Administrative Council will also want to see the office’s income continue to increase. One of the skill-sets demanded of the new president was a “thorough knowledge and proven practical application of modern management methods, including an outstanding ability to establish and foster social dialogue”. Campinos will have to prove his worth on that front from day one.
If that were not enough, there is also the small matter of the unitary patent regime to throw into the mix. Right now, we are in a holding pattern as we await promised UK ratification of the Unified Patent Court agreement and the resolution of a court case that is holding up Germany’s sign-off, but all things being equal by the time Campinos arrives in Munich both should be done and the UPC regime will either be up and running or on the verge of beginning. For the EPO that means the administration of a brand new right – the unitary patent – as well as handling all the complications that come with the UPC’s transitional provisions. There are bound to be major challenges, and the buck will stop at Campinos’s desk. All in all, then, there will be no gentle bedding-in process for the new president next year; he will have to hit the ground running.
So, is he up to the task? Well, his CV is hugely impressive: seven years in charge of the EUIPO (previously known as OHIM, of course) and, before that, in charge of Portugal’s IP office. Such is the job he has done that earlier this year he was inducted into the IP Hall of Fame – and that doesn’t happen unless you have done seriously good work over a long period of time. But to get a first-hand opinion, I asked Trevor Little – the editor of our sister publication World Trademark Review – to answer a few questions aimed at shining more light on Campinos and how his time at the EUIPO might equip him for what lies ahead …
What are Campinos’s main achievements at EUIPO?
He has overseen the implementation of the EU trademark reforms with respect to their direct impact on office operations. The office had a relatively small window from publication of the reforms to implementation of new practices, which meant they required significant focus and oversight.
There have been a number of other notable achievements by the office under his leadership. For example, the convergence programme was launched in 2011 and has been driven forward, leading to greater harmonisation of practice across the continent.
The EUIPO was also entrusted with the oversight of the European Observatory on Infringements of Intellectual Property Rights, which develops tools and promotes best practice to enhance the protection of rights. This extended the EUIPO’s remit into the enforcement arena, with law enforcement training and tools developed. The observatory has also made a significant contribution to the emerging body of work evidencing both the economic importance of IP and the scale (and business impact) of counterfeiting and piracy.
How do trademark owners view him and the office?
Positively. There are inevitably those that would like greater examiner consistency, etc, but overall the office is seen as well-run and there are no critical issues. Things generally work well and where improvements are required, it tends to be around specific KPIs. In our most recent survey of EUIPO users, when asked to rate its performance over the past 12 months, around half went for either ‘very good’ or ‘good’. Nobody rated it ‘unsatisfactory’ or ‘poor’.
Does Campinos get on with the national IP offices?
Historically there had been a bit of a fracture between IP offices and (what was then) OHIM. In some respects it was often a case of conflict as much as co-operation. Coming from a national office background no doubt helped in terms of Campinos’s credibility and understanding of the national office perspective, but he has driven the convergence programme and worked with national offices to develop a much more collaborative relationship. Part of this has stemmed from the co-operation fund project, which has seen IT programmes that benefit national offices funded from Alicante; but I also think much of it comes from his ability to operate politically amongst very different sets of interests.
How is he viewed internally at the EUIPO?
Again, positively. His predecessor, Wubbo de Boer, was very focused on the delivery of user-facing results, and it isn’t a secret that this caused some friction with some EUIPO staff. Campinos is equally results oriented, but is careful to take staff on the journey to delivery with him.
When giving speeches, the role played by the EUIPO staff is always highlighted and praised. Additionally, internal staff satisfaction and development (specifically building a “dynamic and knowledgeable organisation”, with a focus on “talent management, collaborative working and further improvements both to HR processes and to the work environment in order to support new, more effective and sustainable ways of working”) is one of the office’s strategic actions.
With any large, KPI-driven organisation – particularly one that is evolving at a fast pace - there will always be a tension between staff and senior management, which can bubble up unseen. Additionally, you have to be headstrong and willing to achieve results in such a large organisation. Keeping everyone happy is therefore an impossible task, but from the outside my sense is that he is viewed in a positive light.
I think this focus would likely have been one of the factors behind him getting support for the EPO role, where staff unrest has been an issue. As a comparison, the relationship between senior leadership and staff was not in a truly dire state at OHIM when he joined. However, he has certainly made staff development and acknowledgement central to his leadership of the organisation.