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07.01.15

Munich Press, Münchner Merkur, Slams the Munich-based EPO

Posted in Europe, Patents at 6:06 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Münchner Merkur

Summary: Pressure on Benoît Battistelli to leave (or be fired) grows as the cronies whom he filled his office with have become a huge public embarrassment to the decades-old European Patent Office

According to the SUEPO Web site, political pressure grows following pressure from the media. Pierre Yves Le Borgn’ takes his action against the EPO‘s management further. “In his blog [in French],” writes SUEPO, “Pierre Yves Le Borgn’ announces his intention to subject the deficient governance of the EPO to a review by the Venice Commission (The European Commission for Democracy through Law) which could make suitable recommendations to find a solution.”

Things are heating up right now and there are more press articles about it [PDF], complete with an opportunity for rebuttal from the EPO’s management. The Münchner Merkur published the following piece on the 26th of June, 2015. Here is the English translation of it:

Münchner Merkur, Nr. 144, Friday 26 June 2015

European Patent Office

“His Domination has got to Stop”

The fight goes into the next round: The staff at the European Patent Office are demanding that Office President Benoît Battistelli be forced to quit. He can’t see how badly he’s performing.

BY THOMAS MAGENHEIM-HÖRMANN

Munich – They’re demonstrating again. For one and a half years, it’s been the same, every month. The regularity of the protests by the staff at the European Patent Office brings back memories of the Leipzig Monday demonstrations in the days of East Germany, and, like them, this is a matter of basic rights. Large sections of the 7000 employees accuse their most senior executive, Office President Benoît Battistelli, of continuing abuse of power and of using East German methods – accusations he strenuously denies.

When it comes to legal matters, the European Patent Office paints a complex picture. The Office is supported by 38 European states, not all of which belong to the EU. This means that the Office is not an EU authority. And as an inter-state organization, it is also not subject to the law of its host country, Germany, even though German citizens count for a quarter of the personnel.

The placards being waived by the several hundred demonstrators in front of the Office headquarters in Munich speak for themselves. Security cameras zoom in on them. “We’re being watched”, is how the first speaker accounts for the demonstration. It needs to be made clear to the management that spying on social partners is not the way to restoring social peace and tranquility, says the Patent Office staff union, SUEPO. That requires some explanation.

For weeks, a publicly accessible computer in the Office has been hacked, and monitored with a camera. The Office itself makes no comment, but several sources, among them the Federal Ministry of Justice, have confirmed this. The aim is said to be to spy on the staff, whom the managers at the Patent Office accuse of defamation. The possibility is that patent attorneys and Administrative Council members may also have got caught in the net of the Office’s internal sweep, prompting Bavaria’s Data Protection Executive Thomas Petri to call for an external data protection officer to be assigned to the Office.

All this is now high on the agenda of the Administrative Council, who are convening at the time of the demonstration. The Council is the controlling body of the Office, made up of representatives from 38 contracting states. The Federal Ministry of Justice is there on behalf of Germany, and they have made it very clear that the issue of internal data protection at the Patent Office is high on the political agenda too.

The snooping is not an isolated incident. Among other things, Battistelli has banned a demonstration and claimed the right to determine the nature and length of labour disputes. A Dutch court has ruled that the Office is in breach of employment legislation as well as basic rights. The President is not bothering to contest the issue. He is in the process of reforming the institution, and all he is doing in the process is carrying out the instructions of the management.

But some of his reforms, and particularly the methods used, are causing unease. According to SUEPO, the Office has engaged the outside investigation company Control Risks to spy on members of the staff representation body. A dozen or so union members are said to be the focus of attention for the outside investigators. The Dutch newspaper “Volkskrant” has just recently disclosed that the Office has also arranged for staff to be scrutinised by a detective agency. This has left its mark on the workforce. Even the personnel who are demonstrating dare not talk to journalists. “There are people from the Office here, and I don’t want to be seen with you”, said one, and turned away. Another simply tapped a button he was wearing: “BB is watching you”. The Office itself is stonewalling. Disciplinary matters are strictly confidential, and that means strictly no comment as to whether and how monitoring is currently being carried out. Insiders have reason to believe that a new guideline regarding video surveillance is in the making.

Staff representatives maintain that Battistelli’s talk of open dialogue with the staff is pure window dressing. Word has it that he is no longer able to control the chaos he has created, let alone restore some kind of order. “His domination has got to stop”, demands one SUEPO speaker on the demonstration, and wins loud applause.

Battistelli has been at the top of the Office since 2010, and has been elected to remain until 2018. Up to now, the Administrative Council has shown no inclination to see him go. SUEPO has announced that it will be calling demonstrations until the Patent Office is “back on track”. Something has gone off the rails.

Staff of the European Patent Office demonstrate regularly in front of the headquarters in Munich

Things are getting worse for Benoît Battistelli, not better. The longer this goes on for, the bigger and broader the scandals become. Battistelli is in a downward spiral; the question is, will he take the EPO down with him or can the EPO repel and expel him and his cronies (whom he added to protect himself)? The latter would of course be preferable. Britain has had similar issues; tackling them is imperative.

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