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03.05.16

Forget Staff Union-busting ‘Strike Ballots’, How About Ballots on Presidential Matters?

Posted in Europe, Patents at 5:54 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Democracy at the EPO or at least a vote of confidence (in a confidential voting setting) would show lackluster support for Battistelli and help highlight his much more capable successors

A vote of confidence

Summary: A vote of confidence — a vote on President or something along those lines — may be sorely needed in order to establish or restore the perception of adherence to the rule of law and mutual respect (top-down) at the European Patent Office, which is clearly at a boiling point under the Battistelli regime

WHEN the EPO‘s President treats delegates like children and only stops short of outright smacking them in public you know you’re not dealing with an ordinary manager (or President) but with someone who probably needs an early(ier) retirement. This isn’t a behaviour suitable for any modern (21st century/present era) leader, only for a monarch (way back in the days when monarchy presided/sat on top of a parliamentary system, if any existed at all). Illegally suspending judges outside one's authority? Come on, who are we kidding here? It’s a textbook example of gross overreach. Comparing one's opposition to Nazis and criminals (Godwin's Law notwithstanding) doesn’t magically change the Office rules or the rule of law.

Battistelli and his confidants currently use so-called ‘ballots’ to suppress participation in strikes [1, 2]. As we previously showed, non-participation in the process would be falsely interpreted by this regime as lack of interest in a strike, and there’s no assurance of confidentiality in the process. That’s the ideal recipe for a bogus, rigged voting session.

By no means do we suggest that the strikes shouldn’t be taken seriously; it’s just the ballot that’s a mockery, and it’s induced ad hoc (rules be damned! Or made up on the spot). Here is a drafted agreement on strikes (Section J as of 2015 — a draft proposal for a “framework agreement” (“accord cadre”) that would regulate interactions between SUEPO and Management). This is what SUEPO did not get the EPO to agree on:

J. INDUSTRIAL ACTIONS

1. The EPO recognizes that employees have the right to participate in industrial actions without fear of retribution or sanctions. The EPO may make reasonable deduction of emoluments corresponding to any labour withheld in the course of a strike.

2. The Union is entitled to call for and organize general or local industrial actions, including but not limited to strikes. Industrial actions shall be undertaken only after a positive ballot by the Union respective members. The Union is required to ensure that ballot is witnessed by an independent observer who will prepare a report on the ballot. The EPO is to be provided with a copy of this report. Industrial actions shall be considered approved, if a quorum of at least 30% of the Union members cast a vote, and a simple majority of the votes cast are in favour of industrial action. The organisation and modalities of the ballot are at the discretion of the Union.

3. Paragraph J(2) applies mutatis mutandis to the local sections of the Union, whereby, any industrial actions so organised are limited to the site represented by that local section.

4. The Union, or local section, shall inform the President of any industrial action so planned. Barring force majeure or other serious cause, the Union shall inform the President in advance of a strike, with a period of notice of no less than 5 days.

5. The President may requisition personnel, but not more than absolutely necessary for:

- ensuring the security of the EPO premises or persons;
- guaranteeing the minimum maintenance of facilities and equipment, so that work can resume immediately after the strike has ended;
- providing essential services to the EPO’s customers, to secure rights that would otherwise be lost (incoming patent applications).

6. For SUEPO and its members, this agreement, in particular paragraphs J(1) and (2), supersedes any other general provision regulating the right to organise and participate in industrial actions. This agreement does not invalidate or otherwise affect those provisions in so far as SUEPO and its members are not concerned.

After the strikes/s (long in the planning), assuming that Battistelli will be pushed further away to the end of the plank/cliff (the Council is not on his side but overwhelmingly against him based on our sources), succession needs to be considered.

Who is suitable to lead the European Patent Office? Who would prove popular among staff, charismatic among European politicians (not abusing them while drunk on power), willing to listen to critics, and not too focused on just profit/gains in terms of number of patents granted (lowering of quality or patent dilution)? Who can restore the pride of the European Patent Office, to make both its staff pleased and European citizens receptive?

“I hope that the heat increases till the bad crew has to leave,” wrote to us a person who is a FOSS figure, nothing whatsoever to do with the EPO or even patents. “But that will not be the whole fight, the choice of replacement is just as important.”

“And in the long run,” added this person, “the work with the EPO material is by far the most important to my eyes because it is a factor in determining software patents in Europe or not. Sadly, there are some traps in the TTIP to get them in the back door.”

We will mention some of that in future posts. Benjamin Henrion of the FFII wrote about it and spoke about this a lot as of late.

Reform at the EPO will definitely take time (not the Battistelli regime’s ‘reform’, but the detoxification after a Battistelli-led era), so let’s consider this one step at the time. The VPs, who are blindly (or out of fear) loyal to the President, are already hated by their staff, who leak documents that embarrass them. The staff (at least the technical people) wants change.

I am increasingly getting ‘clever’ questions such as this one. Managing IP asked: “If Battistelli goes, who would you like to replace him, Roy?”

The decision should be staff’s, and if there is democracy at the EPO, then the staff will at least have a say (like veto powers or ballots). That’s just common sense. If Eponia acts like an independent country, then it needs to start acting like one.

I began researching potential replacements for Battistelli a while back when some people wrote about the subject. In FOSS circles, in which I find my ‘comfort zone’ (I’m primarily a FOSS person, also by trade), it was suggested that I soon write names of people who might be suitable reformists who are tolerant of criticism and antagonists. Most importantly, software patents should be off the agenda in Europe, in the spirit of the EPC. If any our readers know of anyone who openly opposes software patents and has the qualification to run for Office leadership, please let me know soon as it might be the right time to show which better people exist for the job — people who will listen to staff and appease critics over overpatenting (or patent maximalism, which basically leads to patents on life, algorithms and so on), in spite of economics that consistently prove it detrimental to entire fields as a whole.

Among the defenders (or apologists) of Battistelli, one can expect the usual tactics which follow the logic of, nothing would change if Battistelli left, so let him stay…

The EPO, said this recent remark, “like institutions have always homegrown zealous servants aplenty. They’d offer their zeal to anyone being bossy enough, I guess.”

One can go further and say that those who are still afraid of Battistelli (because they think he is going to stay) will remain on the defensive, not the offensive (riskier). The Council needs courage right now. So does the staff at the Office.

“Among the defenders (or apologists) of Battistelli, one can expect the usual tactics which follow the logic of, nothing would change if Battistelli left, so let him stay…”We still have plenty of embarrassing things to show. With recent illnesses at the house (lasted a week and a half almost) and too little sleep, it just wasn’t the best time to tackle these issues, but expect a lot of coverage in the coming week. Battistelli cannot survive. He got himself glued to a corner. Maybe when we debate the successor of Battistelli (a subject of a future bunch of articles, to come in large volume after several other items that keep our drafts ‘backlog’ clogged up) more people who work at the EPO will recognise the inevitable and act accordingly. It’s Battistelli and those who still stand behind him who should be on the defensive now.

Based on an automated translation of an article which adds little or no new information except this last part, Battistelli’s days are numbered. To quote this automated translation (if someone can translate this entire article for us, that would help): “Indeed already circulating on the name of a possible successor to the official tip of the German board member Christoph Ernst from the Federal Ministry of Justice.”

Christoph Ernst is no stranger to us. Over a year ago he received a letter from Tilman Müller-Stoy (former Microsoft and Amazon employee, mentioned here before in [1, 2, 3], not to be confused for Winfried Tilmann, who has a past rife with UPC scandals) about the lack of judicial independence at the European Patent Office.

As Dugie Standeford of IP Watch recalls: “The suspension, and Battistelli’s plan for performance-based remuneration, prompted a letter from Bardehle Pagenberg (Munich) attorney Tilman Müller-Stoy to Christoph Ernst, ministerial director in Germany’s Federal Ministry of Justice and the country’s representative to the AC (linked to in an IPKat 9 December posting). In it, Müller-Stoy voiced deep concern “about the judicial independence at the EPO and about the EPO’s worldwide reputation.””

This shows that Christoph Ernst cannot be a stranger to Battistelli’s abuses and probably hasn’t had enough of that Kool-Aid from Battistelli’s fountains.

As a reminder, last year we wrote an article after a reader had told us that — along with Heiko Maas — the German Ministry of Justice (its growing biased on UPC notwithstanding) is “responsible for oversight of the EPO through its national delegate on the EPO’s Administrative Council, Dr. Christoph Ernst.”

Ernst is listed in this list of AC representatives (warning: epo.org link) and this recent short CV [PDF] says:

DR. CHRISTOPH ERNST, Head of Directorate (Ministerialdirigent), Federal Ministry of Justice, DE

Christoph, born in 1954 in Bremen – Initially worked as an attorney in Bremen, focusing on commercial and economic law as well as tax law; in 1989 obtained the additional qualification of “specialist lawyer in tax law”. – Joined the Federal Ministry of Justice in the Directorate General for Commercial and Economic Law. – Since May 2010: Head of Directorate in the Federal Ministry of Justice, focusing mainly on general economic law, new technologies and intellectual property. – Head of the German delegation in the Administrative Council of the European Patent Office (EPO) and member of the Board of the Administrative Council. – Germany’s representative in the European preparatory bodies on the EU patent (Select Committee at the EPO and Preparatory Committee for the European Patent Jurisdiction). – Head of the German delegation in the Administrative Council of the EU Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market (Trade Marks and Designs) (OHIM). – Furthermore, German representative at the General Assembly of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

Can Ernst steer the Office in a positive direction after all the damage caused by Battistelli and his circle? Here are our thoughts.

Upsides: as an economist (ish) in the sense of economic law background, he might be able to assess the economic impact of overpatenting — a subject many renowned and award-winning economists often speak of. This old page from the Patent Office of Latvia describes him as “Deputy Director General, Division of Commercial and Economic Law, Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection” (Justice and Consumer Protection sound better than benign).

Downsides: not a scientist (at least not academically or by education), played a role in the UPC (back when it was referred to as “EU patent”), represented Germany in the now-disgraced WIPO (though it needn’t be held against him in a guilt-by-association fashion).

Are any other candidates being discussed in the context of Battistelli handing over (or forced to hand over) the baton?

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