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02.15.15

The Case of Rikard Frgacic Versus the Croatian SIPO: Allegation of Corruption in Relation to Trademark Reassignment Under Željko Topić’s Watch: Part XVI

Posted in Europe, Patents at 11:44 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

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Summary: The EPO branch and the authorities in Germany are facing increased pressure to take action against Željko Topić as German newspapers cover the unprofessional background of Topić and more information about his dodgy behaviour is gradually becoming public knowledge

LAST year, before Željko Topić lost his defamation case (much to the regret of Benoît Battistelli, who blindly defended him), a source had passed us interesting information about Topić’s dirty affairs in his home country, where he he faces many criminal charges. The loss of this latest case serves to legitimise many of the allegations against him, some of which are very serious (bribery for example).

We are worried about the EPO’s management not just because today’s EPO promotes software patents in Europe but because it is deeply corrupt and it attacks its own staff, even breaking the rules in the process. There is also alleged coverup that mirrors what was seen in SIPO, which Topić came from (see the Ivan Kabalin story). As more German papers and some of the English press pick up and grasp these stories we are likely to see increased pressure for Topić to resign (or be ousted). Almost everyone in Europe can read English and Topić works in Germany.

“As more German papers and some of the English press pick up and grasp these stories we are likely to see increased pressure for Topić to resign (or be ousted).”Today we wish to share more stories about SIPO, the Croatian authority responsible for patents and other monopolies. This story relates directly to Germany as well, so there are plenty of reasons for the German press to cover it.

“In case you might be interested,” wrote a source to us, “here’s a sub-story of the Topić saga which concerns allegations of irregularities and corruption at the Croatian State Intellectual Property Office (SIPO) in relation to trademarks during Topić’s time as Director General there. The story has a “David versus Goliath” aspect which makes it interesting.

“Unfortunately, most of the source material is in Croatian or German but you can find a short report in English.”

To quote part of this report from the Croatian Times:

Croatian entrepreneur Rikard Frgacic is suing German air carrier Lufthansa for illegal use of his brand for the last 12 years.

Frgacic, a former owner of a travel agency, filed suit against Lufthansa at Zagreb Commercial Court this week.

The daily Slobodna Dalmacija has reported that Frgacic has sued “Lufthansa AirPlus Servicekarten GmbH” for using his brand illegally since 1998.

“To put you in the picture,” wrote our source, “here’s a summary: Rikard Frgacic is a Croatian entrepreneur who is involved in a number of legal actions against Lufthansa and the Croatian State Intellectual Property Office (SIPO). According to our information, the actions relating to the SIPO include criminal charges against Topić (some sort of corruption or abuse of official authority charge).

“Frgacic, who is involved in the air travel business, claims that he had registered the trademark “AirPlus” with the Croatian SIPO some time around 1996. He became involved in a dispute with Lufthansa over the use of the trademark by its wholly-owned subsidiary AirPlus International.

“At some point in 2009 or thereabouts he discovered that his trademark rights had been cancelled by the SIPO and the contested trademark had been re-assigned to AirPlus/Lufthansa with remarkable speed in response to a request from that quarter.

“The “David versus Goliath” aspect of the affair captured the popular imagination in Croatia. There was even a website entitled “We are all Rikard Frgacic” (“svi-smo-mi-rikard-frgacic”) which can be accessed here. [It's all in Croatian but it's possible to get the gist using Google Chrome in translation mode]

“Obviously, we are not in position to judge the merits of Frgacic’s claims but the information which we have from our Croatian sources about the current state of play is as follows: In the case relating to the disputed reassignment of the trademark, Frgacic seems to have won a partial victory insofar as a Croatian court ruled that the matter should be remitted back to the SIPO for re-examination where it is still pending.

“Concerning his proceedings against AirPlus/Lufthansa in Germany, these are effectively stayed pending resolution of the disputed reassignment matter which was remitted back to the Croatian SIPO. The problem for Frgacic here is that in the German case some kind of statute of limitations is due to kick in around 2016.

“So if the Croatian SIPO blocks (e.g. due to political pressure and/or corruption) that would basically have a knock-on effect which could screw him as far as the proceedings in Germany are concerned.

“One interesting detail in this whole affair is that back in January 2008 Airplus/Lufthansa tried to settle with Frgacic for EUR 1000. There is documentary evidence of this in the form of a copy of a letter making the offer which is [shown above] (it’s in German). The fact that they made such an offer seems to indicate that Frgacic’s grievance is not completely unfounded. Otherwise why would they have tried to buy him off like that?

“We can provide an e-mail contact for Frgacic if anyone is interested in contacting him. The problem is that we don’t know how good his language skills in English are although we understand that he knows German.

“Rikard Frgacic’s e-mail address is as follows if anybody is interested in getting more details about his side of the story: rikard.frgacic@zg.t-com.hr

“However, as we mentioned, we are not sure to what extent he can communicate in English (although we believe that he has a knowledge of German). According to our information, Frgagic spoke to German journalists from the Süddeutsche Zeitung in October 2013, but in the end they did not publish anything about the alleged trademark corruption affair involving Lufthansa. It seems to be another case of “self-censorship” by the corporate media.

Next week my wife and I fly with Lufthansa (to Singapore), so this story leaves us with a bad taste. Indeed, as Frgacic was offered money by Lufthansa (see the letter at the top, click for a larger version thereof) we can assume that his case has merit and Lufthansa is just using its weight to get its way.

Thankfully, some of the Germany press is no longer passive or apathetic. An article was published in the Süddeutsche Zeitung on the 21st of November (just over 3 months ago) and we asked our source for an explanation of it.

“Just for your information,” said one of ours sources at the time, “the Munich-based “Süddeutsche Zeitung” finally decided to break its silence on the Željko Topić affair at the EPO.

“In the context of a long article about current social unrest and a strike at the EPO, they included a brief mention of the controversy surrounding Topić’s appointment.

“No translation available yet, but here’s what they wrote in the original: “Zudem kursieren seit mehr als zwei Jahren üble Gerüchte über den kroatischen EPA-Vizepräsidenten Željko Topić: Kroatische Zeitungen berichten über Vorwürfe, die sich vor allem auf seine Vergangenheit an der Spitze des kroatischen Amtes für Geistiges Eigentum beziehen. Topić bestreitet sie. Und Battistelli ist gegen jegliche Kolportage vorgegangen. In einer Mitteilung an alle Mitarbeiter machte er im Februar 2013 deutlich, dass alle Anschuldigungen jeglicher Grundlage entbehrten.

“Kritiker wunderten sich über diesen pauschalen Freibrief – den der Präsident Monate vor Abschluss einer internen Untersuchung ausstellte.“

Again we kindly asked any of our German- (native) speaking readers to provide an English translation so that we can publish it here, making it accessible to a broader audience.

“We obviously can’t say for certain,” said our source, “but we have a very strong suspicion that it was the recent extensive coverage of these matters by techrights.org that finally prodded them into putting something into print (after being informed in detail about what was going on for the last two years).

“So, we really have to say “Well done!” to all at techrights.org.”

In the midst of our articles about Željko Topić a source told us that it “looks like Battistelli is gearing himself up to take on the “muckrakers”.” (citing this now-unpublished 2014 job ad)

“Better watch out in 2015.”

The ones who ought to watch out in 2015 are Battistelli and Topić, not people who complain about them. Topić may even end up in prison.

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