The member states of the European Patent Office (EPO) [sic – should be European Patent Organisation] are increasing the pressure on the President of the Office, Benoît Battistelli. This is evident from a letter from the Chairman of the Administrative Council, Jesper Kongstad, to the 38 member states’ representatives on the patent authority’s supervisory body. According to the letter, the member states are concerned about the enduring conflict between the Management and the unions, and about the sluggish process of reform for greater independence for the office’s internal judiciary. The meeting of the Executive Committee last week turned into an open skirmish between the member states and Battistelli, several sources report.
For around a year and a half, the Office has been rocked by an ongoing dispute between Battistelli and the two unions, over the President’s management style, his reform process for greater efficiency and for recognition of the unions. At the same time, a public debate has been ignited over the lack of independence of the Office’s internal judiciary, the Boards of Appeal. On top of this, Battistelli initiated controversial disciplinary proceedings against a judge and against three leading union members.
In reaction, the administrative Council issued a warning that the social conflict should be resolved and the reform of the Boards of Appeal should be set in motion. However, both of these processes have been delayed by several months.
According to Kongstad’s letter, the members of Board 28 expressed concern last week that Battistelli is not heeding the opinion of the Administrative Council sufficiently on these two points.
Kongstad writes that is had not been possible to hold a meaningful dialogue with the President. As a result, the Board 28 members addressed a formal written request to the President. However, Battistelli apparently rejected the request as legally inadmissible. From a formal point of view, the EPO President is not obliged to follow instructions of the supervisory body in his management of the office. The Administrative Council appoints the President and must approve the Office’s budget. Until recently, it could be counted on as the effective power base for the controversial Frenchman.
Battistelli’s Support Crumbles
However, this support is disintegrating remarkably, according to Konstad’s letter, and to information which JUVE has obtained from the inner circle of the Executive. Board 28 intends to submit its formal demand to the entire Administrative Council so that it can be presented to the President on behalf of the whole Council. This is planned for the next meeting of the Administrative Council. Kongstad also mentioned in his letter that it had not been possible to set the agenda for the March meeting before Battistelli left the Board 28 meeting.
In the meantime, Kongstad’s letter, and a document with the formal request to Battistelli, are circulating on social media. Sources close to the Administrative Council have meanwhile confirmed the authenticity of both documents to JUVE. Battistelli is not responding to questions about the formal demand or its content.
JUVE has heard from several sources that there is grave concern in sectors of the Administrative Council over the current situation in the Office. These concerns are focussed principally on the social unrest, the slow pace of reform of the Boards of Appeal and the fairness of the four disciplinary cases.
Observers suspect that the escalation has been triggered by Board 28′s demand that Battistelli accept an external review of the disciplinary measures and procedures taken against the three union leaders. The member states also want to appoint an external expert to work with the President on the preparation of a new proposal for the structural reform of the Boards of Appeal.
These events are the first time that any dispute between Battistelli and a section of the member states has emerged into the open. However, it has not yet developed into a public rift. It appears that the Administrative Council is still seeking an amicable solution with Battistelli. However, it is now expecting more than ever that the EPO President fall into line
It was already apparent at the last meeting of the Administrative Council in December that Battistelli was losing support on the question of structural reform, when the member states rejected the reforms he proposed. Apparently it was mainly Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland who openly opposed the Battistelli proposals. As a result, the Administrative Council assumed responsibility for the reform process and agreed on five guiding principles, on the basis of which the President should prepare a new proposal for the June meeting of the Administrative Council.
The EPO issued the following comment regarding current developments: “The President and the Administrative Council work closely together in preparing the Council meetings. This applies also to the difficult social topics, on which the governments of the individual member states have rather varied opinions, and which therefore require a thorough debate.” The Office also announced that a proposal for structural reform would be made in June, and that a social study would be completed by September. In addition, the President would like to hold a conference in the second half of the year with all social partners.
(Christina Schulze, Mathieu Klos)