M. Névant (FR), Editorial CommitteeM. Névant (FR), Editorial Committee

O Brave New World Normal

“Oh, wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world, that has such people in‘t!”

I do not know whether the authors of the “Towards a new normal” document (the “Document”), released a couple of months ago by the EPO, were inspired by William Shakespeare, but I would prima facie be inclined to say no!

In section 3 of the Document, a survey reveals that, in the future, roughly a quarter of EPO staff wish to be mainly or fully office based whereas another quarter wish to telework on a full-time basis. It could be argued that the results of the survey are biased since the survey was conducted during the pandemic, and that there is no indication that the trend reported is observed irrespective of staff category (e.g. admins, examiners, managers etc.). Nonetheless, the wish reflected in the survey seems to mirror the desire of all those across Europe who had to adapt to remote working during the pandemic, and who consider that going to the office everyday should no longer be the rule.

Considerations of a new teleworking framework within the EPO should not hide another objective stated in section 5 of the Document, which is to significantly reduce building space. As a patent practitioner for many years, I am concerned that any attempt to dismantle the EPO can only result in losing what has been the strength of the EPO over the years and makes it the best patent office in the world. Alas, nothing good is to be expected from the Administrative Council (AC) of the EPOrg should the New Normal project – as currently contemplated – be presented for a vote. The time when representatives of the Member States on the AC had (at least) some interest in patent matters is indeed history.

Let’s be clear: I do not believe that a return to the “Previous Normal” is possible, or even desirable. However, companies and organizations, especially international organizations, have a moral duty to preserve social links more than ever. This can only be achieved through in-person interaction, and not through the lens of a webcam.

I am sceptical that the New Normal project in its current format can contribute to achieving this. My first impression was therefore the right one: the authors of the Document have not read Shakespeare!