The European Patent Office (EPO) has announced  that it is seeking 500 qualified scientists from Europe to fill vacant patent examiner positions. The EPO, which is headquartered in Munich but has branches in The Hague, Berlin, and Vienna, currently employs 4700 people, but it desperately needs more. "The significant rise in patent applications from most scientific fields, especially in biotech, computer, and telecommunication technologies, and a high demand for the granting of Europe-wide patents" require the office to increase its staff number drastically, explains Rainer Osterwalder, press secretary of the EPO.
The EPO is responsible for granting patents under the European Patent Convention (EPC) which has been signed by 20 European states so far with a prospective expansion to 28 states by July 2002 (see box). European patents grant the holder the same rights in all contracting countries as under a national patent, and they are valid for 20 years. Each year, the office receives about 140,000 patent applications from all over the world.
Current and Future EPC Contracting States
Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, and United Kingdom
Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia
An EPO patent examiner is expected to be able to assess the latest developments in the specific technical fields he or she works in. Besides the requirement of a university degree in a scientific or engineering discipline, successful candidates must have an excellent knowledge of at least one of the three official languages (English, French, and German) and the ability to understand the others. Scientists will be trained on the job to acquire all necessary qualifications they need beside their scientific background.
Candidates from all scientific fields and from all contracting countries and future expansion countries are welcome to apply. "We are expanding much faster than the E.U.," Osterwalder says. "We need those people who would like to be at the forefront of technology." Osterwalder also has another incentive to apply: "We also offer interesting career development opportunities--patent examiners can also be trained to become patent judges or patent attorneys. We are far from offering dull civil service-type positions. This dynamic field requires a lot of flexibility."
Scientists and engineers who are interested in a position with the European Patent Office are encouraged to further browse the EPO's Web site  and also to contact EPO patent examiners to find out more about this profession. And coming soon: Next Wave will offer a special feature on careers in patent law.