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09.15.14

Željko Topić, Benoît Battistelli, and the European Patent Office (EPO): Part II

Posted in Patents at 5:26 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

“Staff at the European Patent Office went on strike accusing the organization of corruption: specifically, stretching the standards for patents in order to make more money.

“One of the ways that the EPO has done this is by issuing software patents in defiance of the treaty that set it up.”

Richard Stallman amid EPO protest

Summary: Part II of our look into the EPO appointment of Željko Topić and other matters showing the dubious integrity of the EPO

FOLLOWING part I of our coverage of the deeply corrupt EPO we received an overwhelming amount of mail, some confidentially and some not confidentially. People point out to us that EPO has a lot of ‘dirty laundry’ and in the coming months we’ll be eager to provide proof of that. Some of the staff of the EPO is grossly overpaid (they decide on their own salaries almost) and the management is silencing employees in various ways that we were privately told about. Hence the need for anonymity.

The following is a good translation of a recent Die Welt article. We put it below — verbatim — and thank the person who made it available to us.


Better off – brassed off

The 6800 members of staff at the European Patent Office in Munich on average earn 121,000 Euro a year, but they’re still far from happy. They call their boss “Putin”.

Tourists leaving the Deutsches Museum in Munich on the west side have a view of a building which leaves no doubt about its purpose: This has got to be the headquarters of some powerful institution. The 35-year-old wedge of glass and concrete overtops its surroundings with a stern formality. More flags flutter in front of it than any other building in the city, with a massive sculpture rotating on its own axis. This is the home of the European Patent Office. A few years ago the building was cleared of asbestos. The contaminants were removed, and the staff have been back for two years. But the atmosphere in the organisation is still poisonous.

There is a tradition here that the management of the Patent Office tends to be somewhat at loggerheads with the self-aware and self-confident patent examiners, but this disparity has recently entered a new dimension altogether. The President and the staff have fallen out beyond hope of salvation – but they’re still going to have to live together for years to come. It’s not an edifying spectacle, so shortly before the planned introduction of the European Patent. The Unified Patent means that the Office is set to become even more important after 2016. The EPO, as it’s also known, is already one of the most important patent offices in the world. It is a bulwark that stands as a symbol of the strength of innovation of European companies. So how can such an organisation be tearing itself apart like this? The answer to this question must start with the President of the organisation. Benoît Battistelli hardly misses an opportunity to upset his staff. The 64-year-old has been heading up the Patent Office for four years. He comes from the best Parisian civil service tradition, as an alumnus of the École nationale d’administration (Ena), the nursery for executives, and he was mayor of the Paris suburb of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, from where Louis XIV also came. Battistelli has the aura of gravitas of a leading civil servant of France, and radiates it from every pore.

He never loses his verve. He can dismiss the sagging morale of his subordinates with a friendly smile. “How is anyone supposed to reform a system which well-paid people have become accustomed to all their lives?”, he recently asked a small gathering. In the staff journal “Gazette” he complains about “systematic opposition” directed against him. These are words which no management seminar ever teaches. Which no manager would ever utter if he wanted to gather his team behind him and motivate them. They are the words of a man who has decided that there is no future in trying to win a popularity contest among the employees any longer. A man who has a skin thick enough to weather out even storms like these.

The dispute is weighing down one of the most successful organisations in Europe. An organisation which was already functioning well when other European bodies in Brussels and Strasbourg were still trying to justify their existence. The European Patent Office has its roots in 1973, when more than 20 states decided in Munich to back the introduction of a European patent procedure. The European Patent Organisation was established four years after that, and today the European Patent Convention comprises 38 nations, among them eleven states which do not belong to the EU. The European Patent Office is one of the most powerful patent organisations in the world. When it comes to the number of applications, the EPO ranks fifth among the world’s largest patent offices; and it is highly commended for presenting the highest quality of patents, which means applying particularly tough examination.

The staff are the assets of the organisation. More than 6800 people work here, and two-thirds of them are highly sought-after and highly-specialised patent examiners. Some of them are regarded as leaders in their field. They are able to assess whether inventions really are new and really worthy of protection. They deal with major corporations and their powerful patent attorneys, and they go head to head with them.

And they get extremely well paid for doing so. In a current offer for a position, the authority offered an “attractive salary” of 4200 to 8000 Euro – and bear in mind, that’s net. A look at the social report discloses that last year the Office paid out 821 million Euro in salaries and supplements. Converted to staff members, this gives average earnings of 121,000 Euro. Word has it that some employees are getting more than the heads of state of their home countries. Someone who lands a job with the Patent Office is home and dry. If the life partner isn’t working, there’s money for the housekeeping. Even Germans are granted expatriate supplements if they have worked abroad for two years before taking up the position. The EPO spends 20 million Euro on financing an international school. Added to this are the perks of the job: “Basically, you fly Business Class”, as they say.

These are conditions which colleagues in the German Patent and Trademark Office can only dream of. The German examiners work in a neighbouring listed building, which was originally designed as a hospital. As a result, most of the offices come provided with a washbasin. But that’s about the only convenience in comparison with the mighty European patent authority next door.

The examiners here do exactly the same work as their European colleagues, but they earn a lot less. An examiner at the German Patent and Trademark Office receives between 3200 and 4250 Euro net per month. “If I had the chance, I’d work for the EPO like a shot”, complains one member of staff. Most of them fall down when it comes to knowledge of languages. English, German, and French are mandatory. Fluently.

And as well as that, the pressure of work is rising steadily. President Battistelli has set himself the goal of streamlining the authority to absolute efficiency. “Our aim is to be the best patent office in the world”, says Battistelli. “I don’t know whether we already are the best. But I know for sure that we’re the most expensive.” At the German Patent Office, it costs about 640 Euro for a patent to be issued, while at the European Patent Office it is said to be ten times as much, or so the German Patent and Trademark Office has calculated. More efficiency is needed, because there are financial risks involved. The authority does not receive any allocations, and has to live from what it earns itself. And there are doubts as to whether that will be enough in the long term to meet the growing pension obligations. After 35 years, an employee is looking at a pension in the amount of 70 percent of his old salary. The in-house experts have been ringing alarm bells: By 2023 at the latest, it will be necessary to start tapping the reserves, currently at 5.7 billion Euro. A new study is now being commissioned.

Battistelli has set out a plan for the future which is based on five fundamentals. One of these involves the personnel, who are in any scenario responsible for the really significant part of the costs. And that is bringing him massively in conflict with the powerful trade union Suepo. The Patent Office has been afflicted by strikes on a regular basis for many years. Battistelli harbours serious doubts as to whether the strikes are always based solely on matters of labour rights. The view is that it has often been nothing more than having a long weekend. So Battistelli has curtailed the right to strike. Personnel can only down tools if really compelling grounds pertain. And what those are, is his decision. He has also taken it upon himself to see that the elections for staff representatives are reorganized. He has introduced a system of vote-counting which is alleged to be aimed at suppressing the presence of the union Suepo on the employees’ council, an aim which was thoroughly thwarted at the elections in June. He has also taken up the cudgels against the high absenteeism due to illness. He has been pushing for employees who are off sick to be subject to visits by doctors unannounced, between 10.00 and 12.00 and also between 14.00 and 16.00, just to check up on them.

This doesn’t sound too bad, especially given that German civil servants actually have no right to strike at all. But it has led to unrest at the EPO. The atmosphere has now become so poisonous that anything Battistelli does almost necessarily leads to conflict. Some people like to refer to him as “dictator”. Or the “Sun King”. Or “Putin”.

These are different cultures, and they’re clashing. On one side, there’s Battistelli, who is used to a centralistic leadership culture from France, with the emphasis on obedience and reverence for authority. On the other, there are the self-aware and self-confident examiners, who work in small self-contained teams, and whose technical expertise no-one, repeat no-one, can challenge.

Just how far the mistrust extends rapidly becomes clear when you talk to employees of the Office. No-one says anything over a landline. If the issues are discussed at all, then it’s on the mobile while taking a walk along the River Isar or in a café. No-one puts it past the French President to spy on his own employees.

The oppressed staff act as if they are living under a dictatorship. Now that a ban has been introduced on sending a collective e-mail to more than 50 people, e-mails are simply forwarded. When the European Inventor’s Prize was awarded in Berlin in mid-June, someone actually engaged a lawyer who distributed leaflets in which the management culture at the EPO was denounced radically.

As far as Battistelli is concerned, it is only a minority of the employees who are yelling for rebellion. A small group of perpetual agitators, who want to cling on to their privileges. But that doesn’t quite ring true. Going by the most recent votes, the staff were still pushing for strikes. And when the Office celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Patent Convention in a big way last year, official sources indicate that 600 people staged a demonstration. The question is how Battistelli can react to the dismal mood. “He’s a skilled politician”, says someone who has been following the situation closely. Word is that he can rely on the French government covering his back. And, above all, he can rely on his back being covered by the smaller states, who depend a great deal, in a great many ways, on the European Patent Office being a success. The Administrative Council, on which Germany, like all other states, has only one vote, has this summer already extended Battistelli’s employment contract, actually scheduled to expire in 2015, to the year 2018.

The Federal German government is watching the situation in Munich carefully. “The reforms are necessary and in part overdue” is the word from the Federal Ministry of Justice. Despite this, there are still qualms about the social tranquillity at the Office. It appears that most recently both the President as well as the staff representatives have been called upon “not to break off the channels of discussion, and in future to strive more vigorously to seek mutually acceptable solutions”. So far, the call has not been so well received.


Our sources also have evidence which suggests long-standing connections between Topić, the EPO President Battistelli, and the Chairman of the EPO Administrative Council, Mr. Jesper Kongstad (Danish PTO). We were presented with a letter in which Kongstad is approached with the aim of investigating this. We cannot comment on this or reveal the documents until a few weeks from now as this might interfere with diplomatic efforts to address the matter.

Our sources believe that Battistelli and Kongstad are colluding to prevent any independent investigation into the matter of Topić’s appointment.

In the coming weeks are are going to share more documents and if documentation is required to defend our point, we do have possession of it.

“It is not the policy of the EPO to require or examine source codes […]. Moreover, given the length and complexity of source code listings, which can often stretch to hundreds of pages, it would be quite impossible to examine them.” —European Patent Office brochure

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