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International mobility: a fully fledged competences field?

Clarisse Faria-Fortecoëf



After a Franco-German curriculum in chemistry at the Dresden Technical University and the ENSCR (École Nationale Supérieure de Chimie de Rennes), a PhD on new materials for organic electronics at the Leibniz Institute of Polymer Research, Dresden, research stays in France, Canada and the United States, Robert Pötzsch is currently, Patent examiner at the European Patent Office (EPO) in The Hague (Netherlands).


Before the end of his thesis, Robert Pötzsch applied in 2013 for several positions in Germany, in Industry, Research, Industrial Property consulting firms, and particularly at EPO headquarters in Munich (Germany).

How did you get the opportunity to go to the Netherlands?

« During my PhD, I took courses in foreign languages, research and patents management, a key activity for Industry. Particularly interested in this field, I then applied to the European Patent Office (EPO) in The Hague which sought scientists and patent examiners. I chose The Hague rather than Munich above all for personal reasons ».

During the summer of 2013, Robert was invited on his new work place and began his new functions, Patent Examiner, in the fall of this same year.

Some words about your move to this country?


« I had to organize my personal life, but everything went well. I had the opportunity to visit some flats with my partner and the Office's human resources department provided me with a valuable help and a financial support (buying furniture, reimbursement of removal costs, etc.). When one works for an international organization, administrative procedures are also facilitated, for example opening a bank account is quite easy ».

As regards Robert's partner, she has found a job also at the Office, only three months after their arrival in The Hague.

Some words about your job?

« As examiner, when I get a patent in the chemical field - files are assigned to examiners according to their field of expertise - I make a research on the background art. Depending on claims, the issue is to assess and decide whether this is a real invention or not. I have at my disposal for this, several databases of what was done on the last hundred and fifty years, access to various scientific publications such as theses. Following this investigation, I send a report and a letter to the applicant in order to inform him/her on the issues that prevent his/her application to be granted ».

How long can this take?

« From two to three days for research work and first mail. Next, the applicant has six months to make requested changes. Then a new feedback is sent to him/her. Between the application filing and the patent granting, this can take three to five years. But it depends a lot on the applicant and his/her motivation to go through with the procedure ».

Does the decision to grant a patent is taken individually or collectively?

« File study is carried out individually by the patent examiner in charge of it. Once he decides to grant or to reject the request, an Examining Division (three examiners) will be in charge of the final decision ».

If you are interested in this kind of job, you will find useful information (role, profile, etc.) and current vacancies in the "Jobs" section of the EPO's website.

What contributions of the PhD and your previous mobility (traineeships in France, Canada, USA) in the performance of your current job?

« I already consider the PhD as a professional experience in a given field, in my case that of new materials for organic electronics. I especially learned during that experience, to organize my time, to manage a project for a long time, in other words, to perform project manager's duties. Each patent file actually is a big responsibility which may have strong economic impacts. And then, during my thesis I also had training in other areas such as English, industrial property, research management or communication. My mobility experience, enabled me to learn foreign languages such as French or English, which is very useful to me in my current position within an international organization that works both in English, German and French. Indeed, if for example, an application is written in French, the whole file has to be considered in that language. Although we can both speak German and English at the EPO, I also wanted to learn Dutch, as it is the language of the country where I work and live. Furthermore, I was able to work with people from different cultures, different ways of approaching a problem, in other words, I was able to develop intercultural skills. This is also useful at the Office where forty nationalities work together. Thanks to my stays in France, Canada and the United States, I learned to live abroad. Thus, before traveling to the Netherlands, I knew what that meant like being away from my family, finding housing, etc. Actually, almost all of my colleagues at the EPO have already lived abroad, and we are like a big family ».

Your prospects?

Within the EPO, explains Robert, after some experience, an examiner can get more responsibilities. Thus, he may have to chair an Examining Division, to process files in opposition proceedings or to provide coaching.
« I don't know yet how long I will stay and what I will do in the long term. Return to Germany and find a position as a lawyer expert in industrial property and patents? Another position in industry and patents? One never knows ».

In conclusion, what assessment to date of your mobility experience? What advice would you give to those who could be eventually interested in a mobility?

« Mobility is very rewarding. I learned other languages, to know other cultures. I probably would not be currently at the EPO if I had not acquired all of these skills ».

If you are tempted by an experience abroad, Robert advise you without hesitation to try your luck. As he says, « there are always opportunities, financial supports, which can facilitate the stay. This is an experience I do not regret and that is to do when you're young, it's a little more complicated with a family, children. This also depends if it is a short or a long stay. One must seize opportunities ».

The above words were collected following the partipation of Robert Pötzsch to the Apéro Doc « International mobility of young scientists » organized by ABG in December 2014 in Paris. Four PhDs and four countries (Germany, France, Japan, Netherlands) were in the spotlight and four ways to go and work abroad were presented (postdoctoral contract, expatriation, International Volunteers in Business programme (VIE – Volontariat International en Entreprise), local employment contract, working in an international organization).
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