Creating a 21st Century Public Agency

Jane Fountain, Raquel Galindo, and Jeffrey Rothschild have published a new case study on the European Union’s Office of Harmonization for the Internal Market (OHIM). The case study is part of NCDG’s research on the management innovations implemented at the OHIM. Click here for more information on this project and to download the case study.

CASE ABSTRACT: Wubbo de Boer and his department directors, his top management team, prepared for critical meetings of the Administrative Board and the Budget Committee in the winter of 2010. The European Union’s trademark and design registration agency in Alicante, Spain, grandly named the Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market (Trade Mark and Design) (OHIM), had exceeded all expectations for the establishment of the Community trade mark (CTM) and the Registered Community design (RCD). The new agency also could be proud of impressive achievements in productivity and transparency since it began registering trademarks in 1996. Through productivity gains, the agency had reduced the fees companies paid to register trademarks and designs by about 50 percent between 1996 and 2009. Through innovative use of e-business tools and web-based information, for more than a decade OHIM managers and staff had worked to transform and simplify the processes used to examine and register trademarks and designs, completely automating many steps in these processes. They had provided powerful information tools for their “users,” OHIM’s term for the individuals and firms that interact with the agency, and for internal OHIM examiners to increase efficiency and reliability of decision making. They had surveyed users and worked closely with them to develop performance measures and service standards that would in turn challenge OHIM to continuously improve its service in terms of timeliness, quality and accessibility. They had even challenged deeply held attitudes and norms of the permanent civil service by building flexibilities including telework into workforce practices in Alicante and by efforts to rigorously examine working methods to improve productivity.

Yet many of their principal stakeholders seemed uninterested in—in some cases, opposed to—these developments. Each Member State in the European Union (EU) had its own national trademark and design registries and relied on fees to support its own national agency. Some Member States perceived the CTM and RCD to be sources of competition to national trademarks and designs. Some of the newer EU Member States had trademark and design registration offices whose revenues went directly to the state budget; thus those agencies exercised little budgetary authority or autonomy. Fee reductions for the CTM faced fierce opposition because lower fees were viewed as making the CTM even more competitive. Moreover, a steep economic downturn in Europe beginning in late 2008 exacerbated tensions as states sought revenue. The European Commission (EC) was responsible for the delicate task of balancing national and Community interests as it sought to deepen harmonization.