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06.17.15

More Political Interventions in EPO Abuse Cases

Posted in Europe, Patents at 3:30 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Benoît Battistelli

Summary: EPO abuses are attracting more political attention, leading to complaints and concrete steps/actions. Articles continue to come, highlighting more of them.

A YEAR ago staff of the EPO complained, but the media did not and politicians certainly did not. The landscape is profoundly different right now because any European politician who follows the press must know about the EPO scandals and utter lack of oversight. Here is a very detailed and helpful summary from Merpel, reporting on what has happened this year (so far). “The social reform programme is being pushed through,” she wrote, “just as Mr Battistelli announced at the end of 2014. However, given that Mr Battistelli has refused to authorise a full complement of staff representatives on the committee that oversees such proposals, it’s hardly surprising that the 10 loyal managers voted his proposals through over the heads of the 9 staff members and an empty seat.”

Battistelli continues to run an authoritarian and oppressive regime. Anyone who does not agree with him will likely find his or her way out and anyone who dares to speak about Battistelli and his cronies negatively behind their back will most likely be accused of “defamation” (that’s what Battistelli calls facts). We have covered some of the facts for nearly a year now and we cataloged everything chronologically. There will shortly be another summary from us, it’s just that things are moving too fast at the moment (this month has been the busiest, with the highest volume of posts on this subject). It’s too dynamic to be worth documenting or summarising just yet.

“In a well attended General Assembly,” writes SUEPO, “staff of the EPO adopted a resolution to be sent to Heiko Maas, Federal Minister of Justice and Consumer Protection. The letter informs Heiko Maas of the investigation of staff representatives and/or union executives by the company Control Risks during the trilateral talks on union recognition.” (source: “Letter to Heiko Maas, Resolution adopted by staff of the European Patent Office” at suepo.org)

Here is the letter [PDF] in German. Translations would help expand the scope/reach of this letter, so we invite readers to help.

“Letter to EU commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska,” says SUEPO, was also sent. It was sent to the “JURI committee and the Members of the Policy Department C (Citizen’s Rights and Constitutional Affairs) of the EU Parliament.”

Here is the letter [PDF] as HTML, excepting the annexes and other material which was published here before:

To,

the Commissioner ElZbieta Biefikowska,

the JURI Committee, via Pavel SVOBODA
(Chair) and,

the Members of the Policy Department C (Citizen’s Rights and Constitutional Affairs) of the European Parliament, DG Internal Policy, via Dr Udo BUX (Department administrator)

All by e-mail

Amsterdam, 12 June 2015
Our ref. –
Your ref. –

Direct tel.nr: (020) 344 62 15
Direct faxnr: (020) 344 62 01

Re: “The European Patent Office State of Play — In depth analysis for the JURI Committee”

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,

As counsel of the Staff Union of the European Patent Office (SUEPO), we would like to ask your attention for the following.

SUEPO has read the above-mentioned document with interest. Please allow us, however, to complete the picture portrayed in the report with the following considerations.

While the EPO is undoubtedly capable of providing the EU with valuable services in respect of the Unitary Patent, there are serious concerns that its internal structure does not meet the standards of transparency and labour

____________

1 http:/www.europarl.europa.eu/RepDat2/etudes/IDAN/2015/519208/IPOL IDA(2015)519208_EN. pdf


12 June 2015, page 2

conditions which the EU institution expect of themselves. This project will be in jeopardy if it relies on a system in violation of fundamental human rights and on deficient labor conditions, and if staff performing quasi-judicial work does not enjoy internationally acceptable and agreed legal standards. Let us explain this.

1.On 17 February 2015, the Dutch Court of Appeal in The Hague2 found that the EPO is in breach of fundamental rights, relating to the staff union’s freedom to operate and bargain. The EPO has however refused to remedy the situation. While formally claiming immunity from execution, the President of the EPO has suggested that the Judges of the Dutch Court of Appeal are ignorant and incompetent. In line with this attitude, the EPO has systematically turned down requests for professional mediation to restore social peace. All of this should be seen as an alarm signal about the way the Rule of Law is perceived by the top management and the Administrative Council of the EPO.

2.Another example of deficient labor conditions and the EPO’s far reaching use of powers, is the organisation ́s commissioning of an external company, Control Risks, to carry out investigations and interrogations on elected staff representatives and union officials who voice criticism of the management policies of President Battistelli (Annex 2).

3.Furthermore, according to a recent press report (Annex 3), the EPO has installed machinery to hack the communications from a number of PCs installed in the public areas of the EPO’s premises. Please be also be aware that data protection in the EPO appears to be woefully inadequate (Annex 1).

4. The EPO has drastically weakened the position of vulnerable staff, in particular sick staff. Such staff members are put under increased pressure bordering on systematic harassment. Their freedom of movement as European citizens is severely curtailed. Measures to safeguard medical confidentiality have been weakened. The EPO has gone as far as abolishing the notion of occupational diseases and accidents.

5. Independent sources have found that there is currently no effective mechanism in place to resolve legal disputes. The dispute resolution system is dysfunctional and burdened by huge backlog that de facto leads to such delays as to deny justice for staff. The Administrative Council of the EPO, at the behest of the President and without any democratic control from the Member States, enacts rules and decisions that are not subject to any independent legal or political check other than financial considerations.

____________
2 http://uitspraken.rechtspraak.nl/inziendocument?id=ECLI:NL:RBDHA:2014:420
Translation in English: http://www.suepo.org/public/su15088cpe.pdf


[...]

EPO data protection is not in line with EU institutions

1.The President of the EPO recently (with effect from 1 April 2014) adopted new guidelines for data protection at the EPO. He did so without informing, let alone consulting the national delegations of the Administrative Council, the body supervising the EPO. The new guidelines have drastically enlarged the scope of the data protection guidelines previously in force: the new guidelines now also concern external users of the EPO, e.g. patent applicants. It is questionable whether European Patent Convention gives the President of the EPO such a competence, cf. Articles 10(2)c) and 33 of European Patent Convention.

2.The new data protection guidelines are not in line with general regulations on data protection applicable to EU institutions and EU public on the territory of the EU (cf. Regulation EC 45/2001 & Directive 95/46/EC). They do not provide the necessary safeguards for the persons or entities affected both inside the EPO, e.g. staff or contractors, and outside, e.g. patent applicants or companies. They do not provide the required independence and authority of the data protection Officer. They miss a function equivalent to the Data Protection Supervisor that exists in all EU institutions. The way the data protection guidelines are currently implemented at the EPO would not be considered as adequate in any EU institution.

3.The reference to fundamental rights, present in both the Directive 95/46/EC and in Regulation (EC) 45/2001, and that was present in the previous EPO data protection guidelines has are been removed from the new EPO guidelines on data protection.

4.Whereas in the EU institutions, data can only be processed for purposes other than those for which they have been collected under very strict conditions, at the EPO, the President is able to decide on a change of purpose, without anybody being able to oppose it.

5.The new data protection guidelines have been drafted to remove any obstacle to the implementation of the controversial – and legally challenged – EPO investigation guidelines. For instance, the EPO guidelines give the EPO investigation Unit the right to operate without any control from the Data Protection Officer.

6.In view of the above, a check by the appropriate EU body seems appropriate before entrusting the EPO with the granting of the Unitary Patent.

[18 more pages in the original PDF, includes news clippings]

SUEPO writes in reference to this article which we covered last week: “The Süddeutsche Zeitung reports that Thomas Petri, the Bavarian Data Protection Commissioner wants to have an external data protection supervisor deployed at the European Patent Office. It has become a matter of public knowledge that publicly accessible computers at the EPO were placed under observation using surveillance technology after the receipt of letters containing [allegedly] defamatory remarks against the Management.

“Data Protection Commissioner Petri previously investigated the data protection arrangements at the EPO in the Spring of 2014 following a complaint and he came to the conclusion that they were deficient. “It emerged that nobody was really in charge”, told Petri.”

Privacy violations are only few among many bigger violations. Members of the French Parliament slam the EPO, perhaps owing to media coverage that keeps them abreast. “The Huffington Post,” wrote SUEPO about this article, “a website partly owned by Le Monde, published a tribune signed by Members of the French Parliament, the French Senate and the European Parliament.

“The signatories regret that the success story of the European Patent Office is “now endangered since 2012 by authoritarian social policies which do not respect the fundamental rights of staff”.”

If any of our French-speaking readers can provide a translation, that would help a lot.

Articles about the EPO’s abuses (at management level) would discourage potential staff and harm recruitment of talent. Who would want to work for an institution that ignores EU law, defies court orders, uses keyloggers against staff, and has the reputation which increasingly mirrors FIFA’s?

The EPO quickly became synonymous with a corrupt “ogre”, much like FIFA. As IP Kat put it yesterday,: “If you thought that the European Patent Office (EPO) was the only international intellectual property administration that was coming under the scrutiny of an increasingly critical world for behaviour that ill befits its status, think again: the African Intellectual Property Organization — better known by its French acronym OAPI — seems to be suffering from the same malaise.”

So EPO has become a yardstick for abuse. There’s clearly an urgent need for a reset. The problem is not the examiners but those at the top who rally them to expand scope and pursue quantity, not quality, while squashing their ability to antagonise.

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