19 February 2011

OHIM Forces Users into e-Communication Platform to Improve Quality of Service

Within OHIM's quality plus initiative, the MyPage online service is a personalised platform providing a range of online solutions for CTM/RCD applicants, such as e-communication (mailbox for official communications), management of CTM/RCD applications, e-opposition, e-renewal, and CTM Watch, the latter being an automated e-mail alert system monitoring the status of CTM and IR applications. This platform is promoted to provide users with such great advantages like improved security and reliability, quicker communication, and central archiving.

OHIM appears to be quite enthusiastic about - and having the money for - all those great opportunities of online services and e-commerce. However, while this all sounds very modern, consequent and really pragmatic, 'electronification' of service provider services often turns out to be not a great achievement for customers (or their representatives), since the implemented solutions tend to improve internal efficiency by shifting responsibilities, infrastructural issues and work to the users.

Whitin this context, OHIM announced on 10 January 2011 that the current practice of sending a letter (L 124) to applicants or representatives to inform about the publication of a CTM application in the CTM Bulletin will be stopped as of 1 February 2011 with the effect that for all application filed as of that date, the CTM publication letters will be replaced by an MyPage e-mail alert. To set up the new alert feature within the MyPage service, the users have to implement the provided instructions for each single pending trademark case - without receiving any fee reductions. 

In my eyes, this approach is a clear example for shifting burden from the office to the users, since now the user is responsible for setting up and maintaining the required computer infrastructure in order to regularly access office-sided mailboxes and retrieve official e-mail notifications.

However, in this case, the gain of efficiency for OHIM is not so clear, since, as far as I know, official notifications have been issued by automated facsimiles by now, which is not really inefficient as compared to automatic e-mail notifications.

Considering the fact, that OHIM cannot be really satisfied with currently only about 60% of the applicants having and using a MyPage account, compulsory reception of e-mail alerts about important OHIM communications via MyPage would certainly increase that figure. However, I doubt that the remaining 40% will really appreciate to be forced into that direction by the EU Harmonisation Office. I assume they will rather find it inacceptable, especially since OHIM receives a filing fee of 900 or 1.050 EUR which should really be sufficient to properly inform applicants.

Since the benefits for users of receiving MyPage e-mail alerts about CTM publications is at least questionable, I wonder if OHIM's new energetic President António Campinos has informed or discussed this issue in advance with the members of the OAMI Users' Group (international NGO's from the IP sector, such as Marques, ECTA, or INTA).

If yes, what is their position? In fact, one can only find some thin announcements like the one on Marques' Class 45 blog or in ECTA's recent flash newsletter, but no substantive discussions or comments on this issue.

If no, how does this approach go together with President Campinos "firm belief that an open and frank cooperation between the Office and the users' associations is a prerequisite for future success", as expressed in his introductory letter dated 5 October 2010 (see earlier posting). This articulated belief of the President, by the way, wasn't really apparent already in regard to his desire that the user associations should profoundly contribute to the OHIM strategic plan within only 10 days, as reported in one of my earlier postings.

If the user associations as organised in the OAMI Users' Group accept that OHIM simply cancels services - maybe even without any discussion beforehand, since OHIM anticipated the resistance - then they will have to accept that OHIM does in fact not care so much about user interests. This, however, would be a very negative development for an EU auhtority that directly influences the internal market, given the general scepticism of many Europeans against a detached EU bureaucracy.

In fact, from a more principle point of view, all those innocent, well-meant e-communication approaches coceived by technocrats are a bit scary, since, even if they really improve (internal) efficiency by nicely streamlined workflows, they always have the potential to - of course unintentially - increase anonymity and to hide the office behind an internet portal. At least, this would be really efficient, since customers, users, and citizens do not disturb office workflows any more. But I seriously doubt whether the EU Commission would really consider that scenario appealing.

I hope OHIM's user associations will (be able to) raise this point in near future. The OAMI Users' Group Meeting on 15 April 2011 appears to be a perfect platform for doing so.