12.01.15

The Spanish EPO Scandal – Part II

Posted in Europe, Patents at 9:02 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

EPO scandal in Spain

Summary: An EPO-related scandal in Spain is explained, or new light is shed on what some belated research serves to show, revealing a continued atmosphere of nepotism and family connections

READERS have contacted us after the first part about an old article from 2011. They wanted to say more. Various sources of ours, who are very much familiar with Spanish politics and some of these old affairs, may help make this series a long one. We don’t quite know how deep it really goes, but today, in this second part of the series, we are going to advance to the story’s relation to the EPO, which recently contracted external PR people to help improve the image of the EPO (hence the picture above).

“Someone who is quite fluent at Spanish looked at this for us.”Based on information that we received from Spain and another reference we’ve found online (and later on we saw in a recent comment at IP kat), the Spanish community is gradually starting to realise just how rotten the EPO really is. This leads to further investigation by Spanish journalists who are familiar with Spanish politics and can educate us regarding historical context.

El Confidencial is an online centre-right and liberal periodical, according to the Spanish language Wikipedia. The title of their article is “LOS SINDICATOS DENUNCIAN UN CLIMA DE TERROR – Suicidios, espionaje, nepotismo… La Oficina Europea de Patentes es un polvorín” (which roughly translates into English as “The trade unions denounce a climate of terror — suicides, spying, nepotism… The European Patent Office is a powder keg”).

“It’s reminiscent of the story of Bergot at EPO.”Someone who is quite fluent at Spanish looked at this for us. “There isn’t really much original in there,” said the person, “but I did learn something I wasn’t previously aware of near the end of the article, and would constitute, in my humble opinion, a very juicy morsel for Techrights.”

The juicy morsel is as follows: “Battistelli, de hecho, fue nombrado doctor honoris causa por la Universidad Menéndez Pelayo en julio de 2014. El representante español en la OEP es Alberto Casado, elegido vicepresidente por cinco años en 2012 y anterior director general de la Oficina Española de Patentes y Marcas. La actual directora general es Patricia García-Escudero, hermana del presidente del Senado, que llegó al cargo tras un polémico nombramiento. Fue elegida sin que se agotaran los plazos administrativos.

“In English,” the person told us, “the first sentence referring to Battistelli’s vanity title [last year in Spain] isn’t that interesting, but the story improves considerably afterward.”

This paragraph says that the Spanish EPO Vice-President, Alberto Casado Cerviño, who was elected Vice-President in 2012 for a five-year mandate, was previously in charge of the Spanish equivalent. The present person in charge is Patricia García-Escudero, whom we wrote about in part one. It’s reminiscent of the story of Bergot at EPO. See part one, part two, part three, and part four of “EPO: It’s Like a Family Business“.

“…the first sentence referring to Battistelli’s vanity title [last year in Spain] isn’t that interesting, but the story improves considerably afterward.”
      –Anonymous
García-Escudero took charge amidst a controversy surrounding her appointment. She was selected while the administrative period for applications was still running. Alberto Casado Cerviño appointed her and some believe that this was done for political reasons. The original text contains this link to a 2011 article by the same publication. We provided a translation of it in part one.

Update: As of the time of writing, SUEPO made a translation into English [PDF] publicly available. In HTML form (richer formatting and hyperlinks can be found in the corresponding PDF):

UNIONS DENOUNCE AN ATMOSPHERE OF TERROR

Suicides, espionage, nepotism… The European Patent Office is a powder keg

The unions claim that an atmosphere of terror has been created at the European Patent Office, which has brought about suicides, sick leave, and repression. The scandal has reached the level of Government itself.

EPO's Battistelli
Benoît Battistelli, President of the European Patent Office. (EPO)
Carlos Sánchez

Reading time 6 min
26.11.2015 – 05:00 H.

Florian Mueller, a world authority on the granting of patents, says: “The most recent information we’re getting describes a situation that would be inconceivable anywhere in the civilized world, but then the European Patent Organization, quite simply, is not a part of the civilized world”. It has even been said that the Office today is the last dictatorship on European soil.

So what is Mueller, a German, talking about? Nothing more and nothing less than the fact that an atmosphere of panic at work and psychological terror has been created among many of the 7,000 or so employees of the European Patent Office (EPO). Union representatives claim that in the past few years at least five suicides have occurred (one employee jumped out of the window in July 2013 at the office in The Hague), and many others have been suffering from enormous psychological pressure, resulting in patents being granted without their technical quality being properly verified.

The important thing, according to the sources, is productivity, even though some patents have subsequently been invalidated. There are accusations, backed up by internal documents from the Patent Office itself, which reveal that a number of big corporations are benefiting from preferential treatment over small companies when it comes to the examination procedures.

Some 2,000 employees recently took to the streets of Munich to demonstrate against the management of the President and the executive team.

The latest incident happened on 13 November, a Friday, when two employees, one of them Spanish, Jesús Areso, and the other French, Laurent Prunier, were summoned to make statements at the Office at The Hague before the EPO Investigation Unit sent by the President, Frenchman Benoît Battistelli. The union SUEPO , which represents the employees at the Patent Office, claims that after these interrogations, which had a clearly intimidating purpose, both the people concerned had to be taken to hospital as emergency cases. One of them had suffered a major nervous attack, and the other, for similar reasons, had to be admitted. Prunier continues to be on sick leave.

And there is more. Some staff members have been suspended from work, and others have laid claims before the courts about the persecution which they are suffering. At least three staff
representatives have been suspended in Munich, Elisabeth Hardon, Ion Bromme and M. Weaver, and others at The Hague. The parliamentary deputy for French citizens abroad, Socialist Pierre-Yves Le Borgn’, has demanded public explanations from the President of the EPO with regard to the climate of repression, and has made official representations to the French Minister of the Economy, Emmanuele Macron, in letters on the matter.

Malpractice

Le Borgn’ claims in his letter that intense interrogations have been carried out with “unusual violence”, which have left some employees in a state of ‘shock’ and resulted in their needing medical treatment. Neither human rights nor labour laws can be allowed to remain outside the headquarters of the European Patent Office, the high-ranking Frenchman says in his letter, and demands that the member countries condemn these practices.

Some officials have been suspended from their duties, and others have laid claims before the courts about the persecution which they are suffering at work.

The situation has reached extremes that are unheard of in this type of international institution, where officials from many different countries work, with very different cultures. Some 2,000 employees recently took to the streets in of Munich to demonstrate against the President, who is, incidentally, supported by Spain, and his executive team, whom they accuse of nepotism and irregularities involving the buying of votes. Essentially, as a source who prefers to remain anonymous points out, the vote of a representative from Albania or Georgia counts the same as that of Germany, which makes it easy for the people concerned to be compromised in the form of travel, expenses, medical services, or “extra-ordinary” income. Something which finds an echo in events at FIFA, in the decision-making process, where countries with little resources are complaining about decisions taken with money being exchanged.

The scandal has spilled onto the pages of a number of big European newspapers, and the German Commission for Data Protection has demanded that the European Patent Office respect the rights of its employees. The Dutch press, too, maintains that a reign of terror has been established in the EPO, to deal with personnel who voice dissention about the arbitrary decisions being taken by their superiors.

Nazi propaganda

The President of the EPO, Benoît Battistelli, rejects these accusations, and in a letter to the French Minister of the Economy he attributes the incidents to the staff representatives
themselves, and to a “campaign of defamation” against him personally. He also says that a senior functionary of the EPO was suspended from his position because he had been involved in the leaking of confidential documents, as well as having kept weapons and Nazi propaganda in his office.

A number of members of the European Parliament have taken an interest in the atmosphere of panic at work which has invaded the EPO, surrounding, according to the unions, the French functionaries close to the President, who form his “Praetorian Guard”. A complaint has gone as far as Strasbourg that a number of computers with public access have been fitted with cameras and spyware in order to record what employees are writing. The EPO has also been accused on a number of occasions of not maintaining a sufficiently independent board of appeal. This is the body before which appeals are presented against decisions by the patent organization itself.

EU Parliament
A number of Euro MP’s have shown an interest in the matter. (EPO)

The Office is an organization of an international nature, created under the auspices of the European Patent Convention of 1973, which propagates its own conditions of work and maintains centres in Munich, The Hague, Berlin, and Vienna. The member states are all the members of the European Union (EU), plus a number of other European countries (Switzerland, Norway, Turkey, Albania, or Georgia), and since 2010 it has been directed by Frenchman Batistteli, who is at the eye of the hurricane, and who enjoys the backing of Spain.

Batistteli was in fact been bestowed with the title of doctor honoris causa by Menéndez Pelayo University in July 2014. The Spanish representative at the EPO is Alberto Casado, elected as vice-president for five years in 2012, and former director general of the European Patent and Trademark Office. The current director general is Patricia García-Escudero, sister of the president of the Senate, who acceded to the position amid some controversy over the appointment. She was appointed without having served other administrative terms.

As the German press maintains, the problem is that the European Patent Office is a state within the State, which functions with its own laws. The President, according to the Statutes, is availed of wide powers, and the only body which can exert legal supervision over him is the Administrative Council, on which 38 member states are represented. Accordingly, the court rulings which apply in the Netherlands or Germany cannot be imposed on the EPO. In the words of someone who knows the organization well from the inside, the EPO “has set itself outside any control”.

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