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09.17.15

European Patent Office Expands Censorship and Intimidation Against Staff as Pressure Mounts

Posted in Europe, Patents at 2:15 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Chinese labour and Internet standards in Europe

Manchester

Summary: The management of the European Patent Office (EPO) continues to increase its repressive assaults on EPO staff, essentially blocking access to additional sites which explain what the EPO is really doing and why this is wrong

COINCIDING with staff protests/demonstrations (but not strikes) that took place on Tuesday, the muzzling of Florian Müller gets reported. “EPO leadership pressured SUEPO to remove link to my blog from its homepage,” he told me earlier this week, shortly after writing that “In July it became known that the EPO blocked examiners’ access to TechRights” (source), correctly adding that it merely invokes more backlash. The “recommended reading for whomever at the EPO [...] prohibit links to this blog: the Streisand effect.”

The EPO is possibly trying to block (censor) evidence of the censorship itself. That’s how pathetic they’re becoming now. Are they really willing to go down this rabbit hole?

“Document temporarily removed due to threats of reprisals from EPO management,” says SUEPO’s public page in numerous places (with slight variations). “SUEPO is taking appropriate action to counter the threats.”

Well, welcome to the European Union’s most corrupt organisation, where censorship is part of the plan to hide evidence of the corruption, and sites that cover the censorship are themselves being censored, too. China or Russia are where one might expect such behaviour, not the European Union.

So, the EPO is now censoring/filtering/blocking yet another blog, and for what? It’s not as though the staff cannot access these sites from their mobile devices or their homes. Not many staff would be ‘brave’ enough to access sites critical of the EPO from within the premises of the EPO anyway, especially now that widespread surveillance (including cameras and keyloggers) is common knowledge among staff.

It seems likely that Müller became a target of censorship and suppression after he had posted a letter or a bunch of letters which the EPO’s management does not want to be public, for it proves bad behaviour. It actually started in Techrights and as Müller put it on Tuesday: “Last week, the TechRights blog published a letter by the head of the EPO’s investigative unit to Elizabeth Hardon, the chairwoman of the Munich chapter of the Staff Union of the European Patent Office (SUEPO), summoning her to a hearing last Thursday. I also blogged about this development because it shows that the promise of “union recognition” is just a carrot the EPO leadership has been dangling to staff without any genuine desire to improve the internal climate.

“Mrs. Hardon has probably never been at a greater risk of being fired, and the EPO is now not only talking about that scenario but additionally threatening “to take any other legal measures against [her]” over the alleged disclosure of the letter that was published last week.”

Any letter with threats in it is likely to spread sooner or later (at Techrights we never know the identity of our sources), so the EPO’s management must have been foolish to assume that it’ll never be leaked or sent out to a reporter at some stage. It merely proves that this management is incompetent. It believes that silencing opposition will work rather than continuously backfire and this is why after a relatively calm summer the management comes under fire again. Last week the Dutch media reported on the subject and we now have article translations [PDF]. These were published by SUEPO, which added: “Translations in English, French and German are available by scrolling through the document. The article was also published in the paper version of 10 September 2015.”

Here is the article’s text in English:

EPO President Benoit Battistelli. © ANP

Alarm about reign of terror at the European Patent Office after fifth suicide

The union Suepo has raised the alarm about the suicide of an employee at the European Patent Office (EPO) in Rijswijk. According to Suepo, poisoned working conditions may have contributed to the fifth suicide in three years at the Patent Office.

By: Anneke Stoffelen, 10 September 2015, 02:26

The European Patent Office employs around 7000 staff, spread over five offices in different countries, who evaluate patents for 38 affiliated member countries.

Staff representatives have previously raised the alarm about the reign of terror apparently being conducted by French EPO President Benoît Battistelli. According to Suepo, the work pressure has increased enormously under his leadership and changes to working conditions have been forced through by Battistelli unilaterally. Anyone who expresses criticism can expect reprisals.

Together with a number of other member countries, the Netherlands has expressed its concerns about the entrenched social climate within the EPO. In a letter to the Lower House in July, State Secretary for Economic Affairs Dijksma wrote: ‘Partly as a result of these signals a ‘social dialogue’ has been launched between management and staff representatives’.

A 42 year old employee in Rijswijk committed suicide in August, on the last day of his holidays.

However, the situation has not improved since then. In a letter to the 38 representatives of the EPO countries that supervise the organisation, the union has now raised the alarm about the death of the 42 year old employee at the Rijswijk office. He committed suicide in August, on the last day of his holidays.

It is the fifth time in just over three years that an EPO employee has committed suicide. In 2013 an employee jumped from the seventh floor of the office building in Rijswijk during working hours. The other three cases of suicide related to staff at the EPO head office in Munich.

France Telecom

In its letter, the union Suepo draws a comparison with the situation at France Telecom, which in 2008 and 2009 was afflicted with a wave of suicides amongst staff. The union wants the management of the EPO to assist with an independent investigation into the working conditions at the Patent Office.

On 26 August the union wrote a letter to Battistelli requesting a meeting about the potential measures for improving the work situation, however, so far the EPO President has refused to grant such a meeting.

“It is tragic that Suepo is once again abusing a personal tragedy and inciting controversy”, President Battistelli in a letter to the union.

‘It is tragic that Suepo is once again abusing a personal tragedy and inciting controversy, when condolences should be in order’, wrote Battistelli to the union. ‘The link that you appear to be drawing between the death of a colleague and recent reorganisations and the working atmosphere in general, seems totally inappropriate.’

Suepo says that a direct link between the suicide and the working conditions has not been demonstrated but that the Labour Inspectorate should be given the opportunity of
investigating this tragedy.

However, the EPO is not obliged to assist with such an investigation because as an international organisation it enjoys legal immunity. Consequently, the EPO management can also disregard a ruling by The Hague Court of Appeal with impunity. In February, the Court of Appeal ruled that the EPO was in breach of human rights by obstructing the activities of the union.

For other translations see the original PDF.

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