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03.30.16

SUEPO Publishes Translations of German Media Reports About the EPO

Posted in Europe, Patents at 9:40 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

“The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently.”

Friedrich Nietzsche

Summary: For future record and for preservation’s sake, five German articles/letters about the EPO in one place

SUEPO has just translated or at least published translations of some recent articles in German. It’s about the EPO before and after the Administrative Council’s meeting. Since then virtually nothing has changed for the better, so a strike is expected a week from now.

We have gone through translations of articles which Techrights has not yet translated (SUEPO did some duplicate effort by translating about half a dozen articles that we had translated beforehand) and highlighted bits of interest for those who have grown tired of seeing the same stories over and over again (with variation in words rather than substance).

The following article by Katja Riedel of Süddeutsche Zeitung was published when the meeting of the Administrative Council began, so it was probably composed before it even started.

15. March 2016, 18:53 Close up

L’EPO, c’est moi

The European Patent Office is facing a major crisis, and Benoît Battistelli is to blame. Critics accuse him of dictating and not discussing.

By Katja Riedel

Views are widely divided as to what significance the next few days will have for Benoît Battistelli. While those around him are keen to maintain the appearance of normality, his opponents are insisting that the President of the European Patent Office (EPO) is stuck in the middle of a deep diplomatic crisis – indeed, the deepest of his six-year period in office, which has not exactly been lacking in conflicts.

Patents and their economic value ceased being an issue a long time ago. The spotlight is on the divisions between the Frenchman and those loyal to him on the one hand, and sections of the workforce on the other – a conflict in which neither side
is pulling any punches. Battistelli’s opponents are now hoping for a showdown at the meeting of the Administrative Council, which can potentially overrule him, scheduled for Wednesday in Munich. The EPO boss has already recently been at odds with the Council in a dispute over the external investigation into a number of spectacular sackings. The Office, however, is taking a low-key approach: “We are not expecting anything to happen”, says the PR chief executive. No major upsets, no cutting of the Gordian knot – and certainly no resignation.

The strife at the EPO is not only about the reforms which, at the behest of the 38 Member States, Battistelli has been pushing through since 2010, but rather about the boss man himself, and the world which he comes from. The 68-year-old is said to be a person who dictates, not discusses, according to people who have known him for a long time. A man who can quickly be riled if he encounters resistance. He is reputed to be deeply imbued with the centralized French system. What is meant by this is the self-assurance that he acquired at the Ena, that elite Strasbourg college which is seen as the gateway to the key positions in French politics and administration. Perhaps this is why Battistelli has for so long allowed so much to accumulate around him apparently undisturbed. He does not meet his critics face to face, but looks down on them from above, from the top floor of his Munich headquarters, from where he determines the fate of the Office.

It appears that Battistelli has long believed that everything could be turned off, like a dripping tap: The placards demanding his withdrawal as boss of the EPO, placards which lampoon him as the “Sun King”. And the allegedly incriminating documents from his office, and the rumours leaked and spread via Internet forums. One does not need to be a friend of the Frenchman to appreciate that Battistelli would not be prepared to put up with these attacks for much longer. With a stroke of his pen he wanted to get rid of powerful opponents – but this time he may have gone too far. In January Battistelli kicked out the lady chief executive of the union Suepo, together with two of her colleagues, and slashed their pensions. The allegation was that they had threatened other staff representatives, according to Battistelli and an investigation report. The attorney representing the union executive rejects all the accusations, and the dismissal triggered new protests. The Administrative Council then proposed that the controversial disciplinary procedures be investigated by an outside body. For the power-conscious Battistelli, this was an affront. He is supposed to have stormed out of a meeting in a rage, slamming the door behind him. And the Administrative Council has now issued a sharply worded ultimatum, which rapidly circulated on Internet forums and gave opponents the opportunity to hope for a showdown.

The Battistelli circle are insisting that this is by no means the case. The letter was only a draft, a diplomatic tussle, and the demands long passé. Battistelli himself is said to be in the best of moods. But whether that is a poker face or real confidence, the next few days will tell.

Days later came another article by Katja Riedel of Süddeutsche Zeitung. There was relatively firm action, which served to refute Battistelli’s “poker face” gesture. The article does show the shortcomings though. It was published after the Administrative Council’s meeting and the massive protest.

Despite protests, European Patent Office’s Battistelli remains in office

The EPO Administrative Council has adopted a resolution in which the subliminal message is plainly one of condemnation. The wording contains orders for action on the part of the beleaguered President.

By Katja Riedel

Despite loud protests and ongoing demands for his resignation by the workforce, the boss of the European Patent Office (EPO), Benoît Battistelli, continues to remain in office. The Administrative Council of the organization adopted a resolution at its meeting with Battistelli, which was ongoing since Wednesday, which contains orders for the President to act – and also indicates annoyance about his actions. Nevertheless, the Council did not challenge his position at the head of the EPO. They did, however, express serious concerns about the fact that for many months a bitter struggle has been raging between the management and staff of the Office. Battistelli’s opponents had hoped that he would resign, or that the Administrative Council would dismiss him. The employees are up in arms about his stringent reforms, while Battistelli is aiming to trim the Office towards greater efficiency. Staff members have also repeatedly been complaining about serious attacks on their fundamental rights, and also about a range of internal investigation procedures. The Administrative Council, on which representatives of the 38 Member States sit, had already ordered Battistelli last year to restore social peace within the Office, but since then the situation in the international organization, with 7000 employees, has escalated still further. In the interim, a number of leading members of the staff union Suepo have been dismissed by Battistelli, with accusations of serious personal misdemeanours and talk of smear campaigns against the Office management. The union members, by way of their attorneys, vehemently deny any wrongdoing.

Contrary to the demands made just a few weeks ago by the Administrative Council, these controversial disciplinary proceedings are not now going to be investigated by an outside agency, which has been a major cause of dispute between Battistelli and the Chair of the Council. Instead, the agreement now contains the proviso that Battistelli can allow future cases to be examined externally, and agreed on with the Council – a request, not an instruction. The same applies to the engagement of a mediator, which Battistelli has also up to now rejected. It seems unlikely that the resolution is going to calm things down.

Also published on the same day was this article that’s relatively short and does not add anything too new or unique:

Move by Administrative Council aims at ‘Social Dialogue’ within European Patent Office

Thursday, 17.03.2016, 14:34

In the ongoing conflict at the European Patent Office (EPO), the executive management and the staff representation body Suepo look set to abide by the wishes of the Administrative Council and start getting together again.

This was the aim behind a resolution adopted by the Council at its meeting, which EPO President Benoît Battistelli is also said to have agreed to, according to a spokesperson from the inter-state patent authority speaking on Thursday to the Deutsche Presse-Agentur. The key issue in the resolution is to press ahead with the social dialogue at the EPO rapidly, as well as reviewing and reforming disciplinary procedures. On Thursday there was initially no-one available at Suepo to make a comment.

Battistelli has been at the top of the inter-state authority for five and a half years, and is pushing for reforms. These include tightening up on working practices and monitoring performance and time off, something which has prompted a great deal of criticism from the staff representation organization. The EPO recently officially recognized the FFPE-EPA, a union in the European public service sector, although this is said to represent far fewer EPO employees than Suepo, which so far has not been officially recognized.

donaukurier.de, which had published other articles on this subject, wrote and published the following long articles (relatively important or new information highlighted).

Fear, Bullying, Sackings

Munich (DK) At the European Patent Office in Munich, the conflict between the President and the staff is escalating. There is widespread talk of human rights violations, and of being spied on, like the Stasi secret police. But the police and the office of the State Attorney are unable to intervene, because the Office enjoys immunity. Today could be the day of reckoning for the management.

The decisive clause is in Article 8 of the European Patent Convention. This governs the immunity of the European Patent Office (EPO). What exactly falls under this ruling is specified elsewhere: It is written there for instance that “The authorities of the States in which the Organization maintains premises may only enter these premises with the agreement of the President of the European Patent Office”. Put plainly, this means that although the headquarters of the European Patent Office are located in the middle of Munich, beside the River Isar, no German laws apply there. The Convention, an agreement ratified by 38 European states and forming part of international law, stipulates that no police, state attorney, or other national or state body is allowed access. “If the legal protection of an organization is set down in the conventions, then German courts don’t get a look in,” emphasises Sebastian Kolbe, an expert in labour law from the Catholic University of Eichstätt. Former Constitutional Court judge Siegfried Bross even goes so far as to say that, with intellectual constructs like these, Guantanamo could be replicated on German soil.

For many of the staff at the European Patent Office, over the past few months this immunity ruling has become something of a nightmare. Within the Office a bitter conflict has been raging between the management under President Benoît Battistelli, a Frenchman, and a large section of the workforce. And the workforce cannot count on making any recourse to national courts. There are plenty of employees who talk about the fear that reigns among them, but no-one dares to be quoted by name for fear of reprisals. The Office itself flatly rejects any connection between five suicides which have occurred among staff members in the past four years and the circumstances which prevail at work. According to an EPO spokesperson, the Office has worked very closely with the families concerned. “In none of the cases could any causal connection be established between the work and the tragedy.” He went on to speak of the cases being used for exploitation.

It is true that the EPO staff are for the most part very high earners, as well as enjoying a number of taxation privileges. “But anyone who quits or is dismissed, loses everything,” says one female employee, as the Office has its own social
security system and its own schools. Handing in one’s notice means that the children have to leave their school, and there’s no unemployment benefit – not even Hartz IV. Pension claims can be curtailed too.

The conflict is taking no hostages. Among other things, in the past few months two staff council members have been sacked, who were also leading members of the in-house staff union Suepo, and a third has been downgraded. The accusation against
them was alleged defamation of the Office, and having bullied a colleague on the staff council. “An individual and serious instance of misconduct was brought to light,” according to the EPO press office. The sackings are said to be the result of a proper disciplinary procedure, and apparently had nothing to do with the fact that the people concerned were members of the staff council.

What under German law would be virtually impossible, given the high degree of protection of personnel representatives afforded by labour legislation, is possible within the EPO with relatively no trouble at all – throwing out a member of the staff council. Their status is hardly comparable with that of German staff council members, though: The staff council is indeed consulted on some issues, and can submit recommendations, but according to the EPO Code it has no rights of joint discussion with any binding effect.

The background to the dispute lies in the reforms which Battistelli, armed with very wide-reaching powers, has been pushing through since his appointment to office in 2010, and with which he aims to make patent examination more efficient. Many of his measures have incurred resistance from the workforce, and there have even been claims of infringement of human rights.

One bone of contention, for example, is a new ruling regarding sick pay. According to the Federal Ministry of Justice, which is responsible within the Federal Government for the EPO, this ruling stipulates that employees who report sick must be at home between 10.00 and 12.00 hours and between 14.00 and 16.00 hours, which the Office is entitled to check on. According to a Ministry spokesperson, however, the EPO has hitherto restricted this to absolutely exceptional cases. Suepo represents the situation as substantially more serious. Sick employees are only allowed to leave their homes for visits to a doctor which have been notified beforehand, even if the illness lasts for weeks or months. It seems, too, that the doctor appointed by the Office must be allowed access to their homes. The Office spokesperson’s response is that the EPO is an international organization, and would therefore be unable to abide exclusively by German practice. In other Member States, it seems that such rulings are entirely normal. Their aim appears in any event to achieve reform: According to the EPO, since the introduction of the ruling levels of absence due to illness have been “quite substantially reduced”.

Added to this is the “Investigative Unit”, which according to Suepo is notorious in the EPO and regarded by staff members as “worse than the Stasi”. According to an internal guideline, accused persons are obliged to provide unrestricted co-operation with the Investigative Unit, and the right of refusal of testimony does not exist. The investigators have the right, if improper conduct is suspected, to search offices and examine computers. Suepo speaks of “police state methods”, and criticizes the fact that the investigating personnel report only to the President, who is therefore legislator, prosecutor, police and judge, all rolled into one. The Ministry of Justice, according to its own assertions, has several times called on Battistelli to change these guidelines, but so far without success. The risk of self-incrimination, and the prohibition on involving an attorney in the preliminary investigation, are seen as particularly unacceptable. Conversely, the Patent Office is emphatic that Battistelli is prepared to discuss these guidelines. 2016 is said to be the year of consolidation and assessment of the reforms.

The possibilities of Suepo having any effect on the Office are, however, limited. The Union is not recognized by the EPO as a negotiating partner, although it maintains that it represents almost half of the 7,000 or so employees. Instead, at the beginning of March the Patent Office announced a “trail-blazing agreement” with the FFPE-EPO union. President Battistelli spoke of a “milestone in the resumption of the social dialogue”. It seems that from now on the union will be formally recognized as a social partner.

But the FFPE-EPO only numbers some 75 members, and is said to be restricted to the EPO base at The Hague, according to Suepo sources. On the FFPE-EPO homepage, between its establishment in 2008 and the announcement of the concluding of the agreement a few days ago, there is not a single entry. The union did not respond to an enquiry. The Patent Office, however, stresses the fact that the little union is an offshoot “of one of the largest unions in the European public service sector”, and hails the agreement as the beginning of a closer relationship with the unions.

At the same time, Benoît Battistelli made it known in the press release that the”Memorandum of Understanding” signed with the FFPE-EPO is apparently open to all other unions within the European Patent Office. An invitation which Suepo has declined with thanks, since it views the agreement as an “agreement to gag”.

What happens next is at present unclear. Today and tomorrow the Administrative Council meets, which comprises representatives of the 38 Member States. Up to now, they have stood behind the President, but most recently there have signs that they will no longer be covering his back. By way of example, media reports suggest that the Danish chair of the Administrative Council, Jesper Kongstad, has been calling on Battistelli to improve the atmosphere at work, and to allow for an external investigation of the measures taken against the three union executives. Until then, the disciplinary measures should be lifted. In a letter from Kongstad to the other members of the Council, which is doing the rounds on the Internet, he complains that a serious dialogue with Battistelli recently proved impossible, because he left the meeting prematurely. In response to the question as to whether Battistelli is still the right man for the job, the Justice Ministry spokesperson was evasive: “It is also in the interests of President Battistelli to restore social peace in the EPO. To this end, the German side is in regular dialogue with him.”

If the President does not agree to the dismissals being investigated, the Suepo executives still have the possibility of recourse to the International Labour Organization (ILO) in Geneva, but it could take years for a decision to be forthcoming from there. The workforce at the Patent Office appear determined to continue the fight. Last week, 91 percent of more than 4,000 participating employees voted for a strike. Before that, though, the decisions by the Administrative Council will be awaited.

Donaukurier

Intervention by Banavrian politicians was also noteworthy at the time [1, 2] and SUEPO translated one statement about it as follows:

FREIE WÄHLER, Free Voters, want the European Patent Office to toe the line / Schmidt: Bavaria’s status with regard to the protection of employees must be secured – and that means in the whole of Bavaria

By the Editorial Board
Tuesday, 15. March 2016 16:01

Gabi Schmidt – landtagsabgeordnete.eu

(BWP) “Bavaria cannot stand idly by when in the European Patent Office, with its headquarters in Munich, human rights violations are being committed”, declares Gabi Schmidt, social policy spokesperson for the FREIE WÄHLER Free Voter fraction in the Landtag, Bavaria’s regional parliament. On the occasion of the meeting tomorrow of the Administrative Council of the European Patent Office, the FREIEN WÄHLER are seizing the initiative in support of the employees by tabling an emergency motion. In the light of the serious accusations being made by the staff against their employer, action needs to be taken – and taken rapidly. “Even if the European Patent Office is an institution which exists outside any particular state, we must not and cannot shirk our responsibility for what happens on Bavarian soil”, so Schmidt demands.

Employees have reported trickery and subterfuge: For example, the Patent Office is said to have made telephone calls or even unannounced visits, in cases where a staff member has reported sick, simply to check on whether they are really at home, which allegedly means that the person concerned is not even allowed to go for a walk. “There is no identifiable concordance here with German and Bavarian working standards”, says Schmidt, who goes on: “We are therefore calling on the State Government to commit, on a Federal and European level, to raising the employers’ standards. We FREIEN WÄHLER demand that our tried and trusted German and Bavarian standards also apply to the European Patent Office – without any ifs or buts.”

Source: fw-landtag.de

It is likely that next week the press will cover the EPO again because of the strike.

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