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English Translation of Süddeutsche Zeitung Article About Benoît Battistelli, Željko Topić, and EPO Tyranny

Posted in Europe, Patents at 3:39 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Süddeutsche Zeitung

Summary: A recent report from Süddeutsche Zeitung explains the great degree to which Battistelli and his right-hand man Topić exercise total control over the EPO

We quickly enough (more than we had expected) received an English translation of the article from Süddeutsche Zeitung. The Techrights story that we published earlier today will be greatly helped by the following article’s text (coherent translation):

Süddeutsche Zeitung No. 268, Friday, 21 November 2014

[English translation]

Uprising in the Realm of the Sun King

Benoît Battistelli is President of the European Patent Office; now his staff are challenging him on the streets. Their accusation: The Boss is overstepping the limit with all the powers at his command

By Katja Riedel and Christopher Schrader

Munich – More and more people are gathering this Thursday lunchtime in front of the European Patent Office (EPO) building near the Hackerbrücke in Munich. At first they’re about a hundred, and then in their hundreds. Since that Thursday, about half the staff have been on strike – and the issue is not money. It’s a matter of basic rights, as the people on the megaphones emphasise: “Yes to reform, no to this President”, so the slogans run.

This President: That’s Benoît Battistelli, 64 years old, boss of the Office since 2010. The protest, during which the demonstrators are aiming to march to the French General Consulate, marks a new climax in a conflict which has been festering for more than two years at the EPO, whose headquarters are located in Munich, and in which both sides, both the Union and the President, have wheeled out the heavy artillery.

“The EPO has 38 Member States and its offices are not subject to local laws – it is effectively “a state within a state”. And it’s state in a state of war.”Until just before Christmas, according to their direst threats, the staff are intending to gradually bring the institution to a stand-still if the President does not signal that he is ready to negotiate. In that respect, in March this year Battistelli was still brimming with confidence: “In my view, the conflict has reached a peak. I am sure that in six months things will look different,” he told the Süddeutsche Zeitung at that time. He seems to have been mistaken.

In the mini-state there were many privileges – then the new boss brought a new broom

It all started with Battistelli’s arrival in 2010. The Frenchman, a graduate of the elite administrative academy ENA, was elected by a narrow majority on the Administrative Council to the top job at the international organization. The EPO has 38 Member States and its offices are not subject to local laws – it is effectively “a state within a state”. And it’s state in a state of war.

Originally, Battistelli was supposed to remain in office until July 2016 but this summer the Administrative Council extended his contract despite all the furore. Battistelli took over in July 2010 to remove the privileges which had become established in this mini-state, in Munich as well as at the other locations in Berlin, The Hague, and Vienna. He wants a leaner organization, fewer perks for the staff, who earn 121,000 Euro a year – on average. “We’re sitting very pretty here,” says an insider. Two years after taking office, however, sharper words were being exchanged between the President and the staff representatives. So much so, in fact, that even those who support his aims at reform are now accusing Battistelli of being brutal in his management style.

They’ve come up with a nickname for him – the “Sun King”. His opponents accuse him of exploiting the enormous range of powers which come with his position. In fact, the President has the power to decide on all minutiae related to personnel, in the remotest corner of the Office. He only needs the agreement of the Administrative Council for his proposals for reform, which determine the rights of the personnel.

And what gets discussed at those meetings, at which the representatives of the Member States take part, most of them chief executives of national patent organizations, not necessarily empowered in every state, is behind locked doors: The minutes of the debates are secret, and only some of the decisions are published.

“This summer Battistelli also dismissed the elected staff representatives, and announced a new election – based on his own rules. The EPO management does not recognise the Staff Union as a negotiating partner, and Union officials were recently forced to vacate their rooms in the Office. Battistelli has also reserved the right for himself to approve any ballots concerning strikes.”The staff union SUEPO, which has now called the third strike this year, is not pulling its punches either. Even the festivities to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Office last year were interrupted by a chorus of catcalls from critics outside the hall. SUEPO looks after the welfare of just under 7,000 staff members, and it’s getting clear majorities for its calls to strike. As far as Battistelli is concerned, though, the union is only fronting for a small radical minority, as he told the SZ.

The conflict has escalated this year, behind closed doors. A number of events have caused irritation for Mr. Battistelli: For example, the Dutch Vice-President, Wim van der Eijk, was declared to be in a conflict of interest by an internal Board of Appeal, and, much to the annoyance of the management, he is no longer permitted to take part in proceedings about patent oppositions. In addition to that, there have been ugly rumours circulating for the last two years about the Croatian Vice-President Željko Topić and his former activities. Croatian newspapers have reported accusations which relate in particular to his time as the Director of the Croatian State Office for Intellectual Property. Topić disputes these reports and Battistelli has taken a stand against the rumour-mongering. In a memorandum sent to all staff members in February 2013 he declared that all the accusations were groundless. Critics expressed some surprise at this “unconditional amnesty” issued by the President months before the conclusion of an internal inquiry.

This September, the long-time press chief and senior management figure Oswald Schröder, departed from the EPO under mysterious circumstances. Officially it was stated that this was a separation by mutual agreement.

And now the reason why this Thursday the demonstrators were wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan “Hands off Aurélien”. At the beginning of November, a French patent examiner in Munich was suspended and escorted from the building by security personnel.
Neither the management nor the attorney representing the person concerned were prepared to comment on the details of the accusations which had led to his suspension after a long time working on an internal board of appeal. Employees of the EPO do not have legal protection via national courts and only have recourse to this body. In the event of disciplinary proceedings, employees do not have the right to legal counsel nor are they allowed to remain silent with regard to accusations.

This summer Battistelli also dismissed the elected staff representatives, and announced a new election – based on his own rules. The EPO management does not recognise the Staff Union as a negotiating partner, and Union officials were recently forced to vacate their rooms in the Office. Battistelli has also reserved the right for himself to approve any ballots concerning strikes.

All in all, these are decisions which according to expert opinion are in contravention of European Human Rights. The management, however, exonerates itself from criticism by referring to decisions of the Administrative Council: “All we are doing is implementing the
reforms,” says an official from Battistelli’s office.

On the other hand, the reforms which have been adopted allow the President to decide a lot of the details for himself. Those who want to contest his decisions are in a weak position: According to internal rules, the only recourse available is via the International Labour Organization Tribunal in Geneva, which is so overburdened that it takes many years to rule on the cases that come before it. By the time that any of Battistelli’s decisions are subject to legal scrutiny, it is more than likely that the man will already be drawing his pension.

Caption: Stormy times for Benoît Battistelli, President of the EPO in Munich.

Later this week we are going to elaborate on SIPO scandals, continuing what started with the case of Rikard Frgacic and the Ivan Kabalin story.

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