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05.25.15

Süddeutsche Zeitung Says Talking Helps While EPO Management Back-stabs Other Side of the Table

Posted in Europe, Patents at 7:53 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Süddeutsche Zeitung headline

Summary: German media gives the impression that there is peace and harmony now that Benoît Battistelli and his circle of power speaks to staff, but nothing is said about simultaneous (albeit covert) attacks against that staff

NOW THAT the EPO hires private spies (waste of money) to intimidate its own staff it wants us to believe that it approaches reconciliation. That’s an insulting illusion. As Merpel put it the other day, “SUEPO, the Staff Union of the EPO, has announced (see news item of 21 May) that it understands that Control Risks (who describe themselves as “an independent, global risk consultancy specialising in helping organisations manage political, integrity and security risks in complex and hostile environments”) has been commissioned by the EPO to investigate staff members who are elected representatives of the Staff Committee and/or Staff Union. Merpel considers that this completely undermines any attempt at social dialogue, or moves towards union recognition. How are EPO employees to be expected to serve on the Central Staff Committee, or to represent the EPO unions, if at the same time they are to be harassed and investigated, apparently for performing this very service?”

Also, “in the meantime,” she wrote, “most of the reforms to which the EPO staff objected were being pushed through, and it began to appear as though, even if union recognition was achieved, it would be too late to achieve any of the modifications that were needed to the reforms.”

What kind of reform and negotiation is this? Benefit of the doubt given to Benoît Battistelli? Why? Control freak is what he is and there is hardly an effort to deny it, either. Is this going to be the legacy of the European Union? Autocrats who waste taxpayers’ money?

Around the same time of a report from the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung there was this Süddeutsche Zeitung article from a month ago [PDF]. It said “Talking Helps”, but helps who? So far it has mostly gagged EPO critics.

Here is the article in full:

Talking Helps

For months a massive dispute has been brewing at the European Patent Office. The staff regard their basic rights as being eroded by the President. Now the opposing camps have met for the first time.

Top executives at the Patent Office are starting to worry about its reputation – and the ability to do its job

By Katja Riedel

This week something almost impossible happened at the European Patent Office – or at least that’s the way it looked to the always well-informed bloggers on IPKat. This and similar Internet forums are where the people get together who are interested in intellectual property. And over the past few months the patent scene worldwide has been watching Munich with as much excitement as concern, and the darkened windows of the headquarters of the European Patent Office (EPO) on the bank of the River Isar. It is there, for all to see, that a dispute which is as bizarre as it is bitter has been brewing between parts of the staff, supported by the union Suepo, and the President, Benoît Battistelli.

This week something has happened which even Battistelli’s most trusted lieutenants would hardly have thought feasible: It seems that a rapprochement is at least on the cards. On Wednesday the President, along with high ranking delegates from his supervisory body, the Administrative Council, met with union representatives. The Danish Chairman of the Administrative Council, Jesper Kongstad, was there, together with the German and Croatian EPO Vice-Presidents, and representatives from the unions Suepo and FFPE. The aim was to re-establish social harmony, on the Isar and in the entire international organization, with its well on 7000 staff members. This is regarded as having absolute priority for the entire organization, according to the Administrative Council.

What sounds like something obvious has up now been unthinkable. The unions and the President weren’t even getting close – they were worlds apart. Step by step, Battistelli has been implementing a major programme of reform. He wants to streamline the Office, which is actually said to be the most expensive in the world, and that means doing away with some of the perks. For example, he has changed the promotion system to a more rigid performance-related points system. Staff at the European Patent Office actually earn an average of 7600 Euro, their income is not subject to tax, their children attend an international school free of charge, and there are a lot of other benefits as well. But they are also highly specialized scientists. And they emphasize that the issue is not one of money, but of basic rights, which in the world of the EPO, with its own set of rules, do not apply, but under German labour law and that of most of the 38 individual states which are represented at the EPO are a matter of course. The right to unionize, for example. Or, if someone falls ill, not having to have an unannounced visit from a company doctor at their home. A court at The Hague, one of the EPO locations, even recently ruled that the Office was infringing basic human rights. This is a criticism which Battistelli has rejected in a public bulletin: “There is a strange rumour going around in Europe, in media, political circles, and even at national courts: That we infringe basic rights. What an accusation!”

For a long time the representative of the Member States have let the President have a free hand, among other reasons because at its heart they were in favour of the reform. The Office is preparing for the introduction of the European Unitary Patent, which will make Munich one of the most important places in the world when it comes to intellectual property. It will also be the seat of an outpost of the European Patent Court, which will decide on the fate of billions of Euros. Top ranking EPO representatives have recently become extremely concerned that the tumult surrounding Battistelli is damaging the reputation of the Office, and is taking up too much of the effort which is needed for bringing about the reforms at the EPO. And even the patent examiners, highly specialized scientists, are saying that they are concerned – about the quality of the patents. In future, more patents will have to be given the once-over, less critically, so as to be able to hold their own in worldwide competition with glittering statistics and high earnings from fees.

At the most recent meeting of the Administrative Council at the end of March, Battistelli’s back-covering finally gave way, even on the part of the German delegation. The inner circle closeted itself with Battistelli, and made it penetratingly clear to him that he needed to give up the confrontation approach, and take a step in the direction of the staff, in the interests of his own reform programme, which he is aiming to complete by the end of his term of office in 2018.

For four hours they sat together on Wednesday, and word had it afterwards from the people concerned that there were no harsh words or emotional outbursts at all. And that says a lot,
after a year with 22 days of strikes, with demonstrations at consulates on the one hand and threats of disciplinary procedures and measures against personnel who were too loud in their criticism on the other. A working group has been set up. The top-ranking gathering will reconvene at the end of May. “It wasn’t an easy meeting, but actually sitting at the same table was an important first step, and the beginning of a constructive process”, said the Chairman of the Administrative Council Kongstad, in a joint communiqué with Battistelli. The President too praised the open atmosphere. Suepo did express regret that the question of a fixed role of the unions in the EPO regulatory procedure appeared to be the sole specific point of negotiation. There was the feeling, however, that the delegates from the Administrative Council had at least understood the views of the employees. Caption:

Strike: In the past few months, the staff have repeatedly been making their voices heard at the consulates of the Member States in Munich

The EPO’s management is no negotiations partner until or unless it stops intimidating the staff of the EPO. This ought to be clear to anyone who has watched what Battistelli has done over the past couple of years.

“The European Patent Office is a Corrupt, Malicious Organisation Which Should Not Exist”

Richard Stallman

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