Summary: ‘Storm in the Glasshouse’, an article from one week ago in the German media (covering Control Risks being given taxpayers’ money to protect mischievous management)
AN ARTICLE from Süddeutsche Zeitung was mentioned the other day because it covered the EPO‘s reliance on spies to intimidate staff and journalists (Control Risks involvement is confirmed by the EPO). We now have the collection of translations
[PDF] from SUEPO’s Web site and here is the article in English:
31 May 2015, 19:06
Storm in the Glasshouse
The European Patent Office won’t settle down. New internal memos, directed against staff representatives, are causing a stir. The in-house investigation department is said to be understaffed, and word has it that crisis-management specialists are to be brought in from London to look into accusations of bullying.
By Katja Riedel
The law gazette Juve isn’t given to using excitable language, so if Juve compares the crisis at the European Patent Office (EPO) with storm front Niklas over Munich, then it’s obviously taking the situation seriously. There has indeed been a storm brewing for many months in the glass building on the bank of the Isar, and it looks as if a very brief break in the weather has already come to an end.
“Social dialogue” is what they called the round of peace talks ordered by the chief executive body, when the President of the Office, Benoît Battistelli, and representatives of the union Suepo, up to now not officially recognized, were supposed to start talking to each other. This dialogue, which was supposed to end not only with conflicts resolved but also with the union being formally recognized, now appears to have gone on the rocks again, after just the second meeting, held last Thursday. That, at least, is how the staff representatives see things. Smoke screening, a marketing ploy for the President – word has it that nothing else came of the talks, and nothing else is to be expected. On the other hand, the Office, at least according to its spokesman Rainer Osterwalder, is hoping that the path to discussions will not be closed again, having hardly been open. People had been hoping for a great deal from the talks.
The Administrative Council, on which representatives of the 38 Member States sit, had called for this dialogue, because the conflict between personnel and management has been damaging the function and image of the EPO for a long time. The Office is facing great changes, but for more than a year the staff representatives have been protesting loudly about Battistelli’s plans for reform. The reforms are supposed to enhance the efficiency of patent examinations, and that has in fact been achieved. The productivity of the patent examiners is said to have risen by 16 percent in the first three months of the year. The Member States are benefitting from this. Germany has apparently received 140 million Euros from the profits achieved by the EPO, according to the staff union. Protecting intellectual property is an attractive prospect for the individual states – and the more patents that are issued, the more lucrative it gets.
Anonymous accusations, defamations and threats piling up
For the staff, the reforms are bringing about a lot of changes, such as a new, performance-based career system; this involves checks and balances for the employees, and they are protesting about them. Anyone not turning up for work because of illness, for example, gets deductions from their salary. The staff are afraid that the pressure on the patent examiners may well lead to more patents, but that quality is going to suffer. This concern has recently been voiced not only by the people at the Office; patent attorneys are getting worried too.
The fact that the mood at the EPO has deteriorated so much can also be attributed to the internal activities of what is known as the Investigation Unit, a body which looks into accusations against members of staff, for example due to bullying. Any staff member can make these accusations against colleagues and superiors, which results in the taking of statements from witnesses, and only at the end do the accused get a chance to be heard. Over the past few months this unit has had a lot to do, with the anonymous accusations, defamations, and threats piling up.
One particular scandal has sprung up over a ban on entering the premises which Battistelli has imposed on a judge who is actually an independent operative. Battistelli suspected him of being the originator of these kinds of letters, and kicked him out – for reasons of securing evidence, according to the President. The judge can in fact only be suspended by the Administrative Council, as the highest executive body, and they only approved the action after it had been carried out. This was followed by a storm of indignation, but Battistelli has stuck to his guns. Now a new internal investigation is under way, which again is causing a stir, and promises to be anything but promising with regard to the peace discussions which were agreed on. This investigation is directed specifically against staff representatives. Which of them have been named is not yet known. Witnesses are already being heard in pursuit of accusations of bullying, and those accused have still not been approached. The unit is bringing in help for the new investigation. Because the in-house team is said to be understaffed, an outside company has been asked to assist, says EPO spokesman Osterwalder. The people concerned are said to be the London-based Control Risks Group, who carry out investigations on an international level, and who, in their own words, “help organizations with political and security risks in complex and hostile environments”. Real crisis specialists, in other words. It was not the President, but the department itself which chose this company, as EPO spokesman Osterwalder is keen to emphasise. Battistelli himself is apparently not informed of the contents of such investigations, and any staff member can make a report and set an investigation in motion. It is only when the facts have been determined that the President decides on disciplinary measures.
But that’s small solace for the union representatives who may have been accused, and who are still supposed to be negotiating with him about social peace.
Icy climate in the European Patent Office: Behind the bright façade, the path to discussions between staff and management is proving to be very rocky indeed.
There is a lot more coming about the Control Risks Group affair. We have more to show in days to come, so stay tuned. █