05.25.15

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Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on Benoît Battistelli and Four EPO Suicides

Posted in Europe, Patents at 4:46 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

FAZ (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung) article

Summary: German press article from April 2015 (with translations)

WHILE the EPO hires spies to attack journalists (not just staff), this one article (see these translations [PDF]) frames Battistelli as a peacemaker, which is wrong:

Truce at the Tax Haven of the European Patent Office

The autocratic President, Battistelli, is not a popular person. One union is even holding him responsible for suicides. Now discussions are under way.

kön. MUNICH, 24 April. Benoît Battistelli represents the French School par excellence. His autocratic management style is entirely in the tradition of the cradle of France’s elite, the Paris Institute of Political Science and School of Management for Executive State Service (ENA), where he embraced hierarchical and authoritarian thinking, with little dialogue and a lot of top-down delegation. A style like that does not always sit well, and even less so in an international organization such as the European Patent Office (EPO), with headquarters in Munich and The Hague, and with 38 European countries as members.

Battistelli, a 64-year-old Frenchman, being in office since 2010, has been dubbed the “Sun King” within the Office. The title fits: The EPO enjoys extra-territorial status with immunity, and is therefore not subject to national legislation. “Monsieur le Président” even has diplomatic status. But this authoritarian approach runs into trouble if it threatens to bring in reforms that erode privileges at the EPO, founded in 1973. The 7000 or so staff, from 30 countries, earn an average of 120,000 Euro a year, among them some 4300 highly qualified engineers, for a 40-hour working week and up to three months of holidays, a tax rate of 6 percent, and the EPO paying for medical care and children’s education.

Battistelli is out to exert more control. As of this month, he is demanding a doctor’s certificate in the event of illness and inability to work after three days, something which otherwise goes without saying in Germany. Illness numbers and time off are noticeably high. Since the start of the year, new criteria apply for assessing the performance of the staff. In this context, trouble has been brewing for more thanyear between the union SUEPO and the President, who does not recognize them as discussion partners. This has resulted in an attack on Battistelli, accusing him of joint responsibility in the suicide of staff members, among other reasons due to mobbing tactics. The aim is to drive the President from office, accompanied by strikes and demonstrations.

Last Wednesday, the reasonable approach won through. Battistelli, the Chairman of the Administrative Council Jesper Kongstad, and the two unions SUEPO and the somewhat more moderate FFPE, which represents the staff at The Hague, sat down at the same table. They talked for three hours, which is regarded as a great success. It is seen as the first step towards a “social dialogue”. According to the EPO, the ultimate aim of the Round Table is to lead to the formal recognition of the unions. The next meeting between the opposing parties is scheduled for 28 May. The SUEPO views it as positive that it has come to an “open exchange”. More is going to need to happen than simply the recognition of the unions, however; they are demanding to be integrated into the reform process.

The President has come to this understanding, with some pressure from the Administrative Council. Word has it that the Council has recognized the necessity of peace talks, and in the process has encountered an amazingly forthcoming Battistelli. It has become clear to him too that at the beginning of April a line was crossed. An article about the crisis at the EPO appeared in the French newspaper “Le Monde”. Four cases of suicide of Office employees were analyzed in almost minute detail, which occurred in three years and are said to have been attributable to depression. In March, a German employee in Munich took his own life. The SUEPO was quoted in the article as saying that they held Battistelli responsible for the circumstances, and that he was abusing the principle enshrined in the Statutes of judicial immunity. The President stated in the same article that he was “shocked” at the attempts to exploit the tragic incidents as an instrument, and to lay the suicides at his door.

The SUEPO already took up arms about the situation at the EPO last year. Reforms in personnel management and working conditions were said to have been introduced without having been examined by an independent body with regard to compatibility with fundamental rights and generally accepted principles of law. Staff can only lodge complaints about rights by way of an arbitration tribunal of the International Labour Organization (ILO) in Geneva, not via national labour courts. The lack of transparency in management was criticized. Divergent opinions have been suppressed. “In structural terms, the President appears in all matters as accuser, examiner, judge, and final arbiter” is how the SUEPO describes the autocratic management style. In November 2014 Battistelli threw the union out of the EPO premises, and in February he threatened strikers with disciplinary measures.

All the more startling, then, the change just a few weeks later: In “Le Monde” “Monsieur Le Président”, whose contract was extended last year by three years, until 2018, was perfectly open about his salary of 250,000 Euro, which up to now has been one of the most closely guarded secrets. The newspaper report appears to have unleashed a shockwave. The case of France Télécom may have sounded warning bells with the President and the Administrative Council. In 2010, CEO Didier Lombard stood down after a series of suicides by several dozen employees shook the concern. And the fact also sank in that the reforms can be moved ahead in co-operation with the unions, and not at war with them. Battistelli took office with the task of putting into effect plans for renewal of the authority which had already run into difficulties. Unrest or even escalation under public gaze in an institution which acts discreetly such as the EPO could affect the success record of the President. He has in fact already scored a number of successes, and has strengthened the EPO in relation to the competing patent organizations in the United States and in Asia during his time in office. In 2014 there were 274,000 patent applications, while only 64,600 patents were actually granted, which is an indicator of the high demands involved. The more careful the examinations and screening procedures, the fewer the number of patents which can be challenged.

With a budget of 2 billion Euros, the Office finances itself from the expensive patent earnings, from which money is also distributed among the 38 Member States. Each of these has one vote, regardless of their significance, whether it be Albania or Germany, from which the most applications come. This congenital defect has contributed to the evolution of the autocratic structures. The President has always been able to bring small states into the balance, just as the controversial and power- obsessed Sepp Blatter is prone to do, President of the largest sports organization in the world, the World Football Association Fifa. The big difference with regard to Blatter is that Battistelli is able to learn – and he’s perceptive.

If Battistelli wants to make things right, he should resign, ensure the removal of his cronies (especially that gangster Željko Topić), and bring back people who were illegally fired/suspended, including regulatory staff. Restoring order and justice at the EPO would be a long process; it hasn’t even begun.

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