10.28.16

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The EPO’s Balkan Express Keeps Chugging Along Despite Predictions of Derailment

Posted in Europe, Patents at 5:28 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Balkan Express crossing the Isar in Bavaria
Balkan Express crossing the Isar in Bavaria

Balkan Express

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Summary: The latest part in the series regarding the reappointment of the two Vice-Presidents, Casado and Topić

THE EPO‘s management makes things worse before it makes things any better. The reappointment of two Vice-Presidents, Casado and Topić, is quite revealing. We already wrote about Casado; see part one (photos addendum) and part two (photos addendum). Today we deal with Topić, having published a leaked letter this morning and a teaser with accompanying photographs.

The latest official Communique issued by the EPO Administrative Council on the 14th of October 2016 confirmed that “on a proposal from the President” the Council had decided to extend the appointment of Željko Topić as Vice-President of Directorate-General 4 until the 31st of December 2018.

Topić’s contract was due to expire in April 2017 and in June of this year rumours were already circulating that there was strong opposition inside the Administrative Council to a prolongation. But after persistent and intensive lobbying on behalf of his “winning team” it appears that “Il Duce” was ultimately able to prevail against his opponents. The news that the EPO Balkan Express is now scheduled to remain in service until the end of 2018 probably came as an unpleasant surprise to those who had expected this particular “gravy train” to be decommissioned at the end of its current term.

“Topić’s contract was due to expire in April 2017 and in June of this year rumours were already circulating that there was strong opposition inside the Administrative Council to a prolongation.”To mark the occasion it seems like a good idea to revisit this controversial “Topic” (if you’ll excuse the pun) and to provide Techrights readers with an update concerning Battistelli’s “Balkan Connection”.

Topić originally comes from Banja Luka which is in the Republic Sprksa region of Bosnia-Herzegovina. After the former Republic of Jugoslavia split up it seems that he moved to Zagreb some time in the early 1990s and pursued a career in the Croatian civil service where he eventually became Director General of the State Intellectual Property Office (SIPO) and head of the Croatian delegation to the EPO’s Administrative Council.

Although he is officially a Croatian national for EPO purposes it is rumoured that he also claims Bosnian-Herzegovinian citizenship by virtue of his roots in Banja Luka. Nobody can say for certain whether or not he has declared any additional citizenships which he might hold to the Administrative Council of the EPO (which is his appointing authority).

“Although he is officially a Croatian national for EPO purposes it is rumoured that he also claims Bosnian-Herzegovinian citizenship by virtue of his roots in Banja Luka.”EPO insiders say that the “Balkan Connection” forms an important link in Battistelli’s pan-European political network. It seems that the links between Battistelli and Topić go back at least as far as 2008 when as heads of their respective national IP Offices they signed a bilateral agreement between France and Croatia [PDF] (see photograph in our “teaser” article).

Topić also appears to have long established links to the Danish Patent and Trademark Office (DKPTO) which was involved in two EU-sponsored twinning projects with the Croatian SIPO between 2003 to 2005 and again in 2009 to 2010. Sources include the DKPTO’s own site (more here). In our “teaser” we showed Topić a decade ago (2006), meeting the DKPTO for the twinning project [PDF]. The head of the DKPTO is now the Chinchilla Man of the Administrative Council, Mr. Kongstad.

Back in 2014 Techrights reported about an alleged "Protection Triangle" involving Battistelli, Kongstad, and Topić.

“The head of the DKPTO is now the Chinchilla Man of the Administrative Council, Mr. Kongstad.”In his current position as a key member of “Team Battistelli” at the EPO, Topić is said to be useful for drumming up support amongst the delegations from the territory of the former Jugoslavia and its neighbouring states. He seems to be an old hand at this kind of political lobbying game. The source is Wikileaks diplomatic cable 07ZAGREB597, which reveals that he previously assisted the efforts of the US to unseat Kamil Idris as the Director General of the WIPO in 2007. To quote from the Wikileaks cable: “Topić said he would raise the issue there and urge those states that are also EU members to lobby the other EU member states to take a firm position on Idris at the September WIPO General Assembly.”

Background to the Kamil Idris affair is in Wikipedia.

Following his appointment as EPO Vice-President, Topić is said to have maintained close links to the Croatian delegation on the Administrative Council which is now headed by Ljiljana Kuterovac (see the leaked letter we published this morning), the current Director General of the Croatian SIPO. Kuterovac is reputed to be Topić’s protégée having previously served under him at the SIPO as an Assistant Director.

According to sources in Croatia, during Topić’s time as Director General from 2004 to 2012 Kuterovac was one of five Assistant Directors. From among the group of five, Kuterovac seems to have been the Director General’s favorite Pet Chinchilla and she is reported to have regularly accompanied him on official trips to the WIPO and other IP “junkets” around the globe. It is further alleged that an upmarket Skoda Octavia Combi 1.9 TDI limousine which was acquired by the SIPO in 2007 as one of three luxury cars for its official fleet was placed at the exclusive disposal of Kuterovac. Apparently she was the only one of the five Assistant Directors to receive such perks. It has been reported from Zagreb that a long overdue audit of the SIPO which was belatedly completed by the Croatian Ministry of Finance in March 2016 confirmed that, as has long been suspected, the luxury cars used by the SIPO during Topić’s term of office were acquired in breach of the applicable official budgetary regulations.

“It has been reported from Zagreb that a long overdue audit of the SIPO which was belatedly completed by the Croatian Ministry of Finance in March 2016 confirmed that, as has long been suspected, the luxury cars used by the SIPO during Topić’s term of office were acquired in breach of the applicable official budgetary regulations.”Between Topić and Kuterovac there appears to be a “synergy” comparable to that which has been recently noted in the case of the Spanish Vice-President Alberto Casado and the head of the Spanish delegation, Patricia Garcia-Escudero. In both cases the head of an Administrative Council delegation got appointed to a position as EPO Vice-President and his successor as head of delegation was his former subordinate and deputy. As with Casado and Garcia-Escudero, this is another case in which an EPO Vice-President appears to be in a position to exert an inappropriate level of influence over an individual member of the oversight body because of the previous professional relationship.

Shortly before the Administrative Council met in Munich on the 12th and 13th of October and decided to renew Topić’s contract, sources in Croatia reported on an interesting development in a civil lawsuit which is being pursued in Zagreb against the Croatian SIPO and its former Director General by former SIPO employees as previously reported by Techrights. See our earlier report on this.

The lawsuit which concerns claims of harassment and other SIPO management misconduct was filed a long time ago in 2008 and it is still working its way through the painfully slow Croatian legal system. The good news for those affected is that the last hearing took place on the 10th of October 2016 when one of the lead plaintiffs, Jadranka Oklobdžija, was heard as a witness. Ms Oklobdžija was the Chairperson of the staff union at the SIPO at the time in question. Now that the court hearings are finished a judgment is expected fairly soon. People who have been following the case say that this is not likely to be in Topić’s favour.

“Due to these developments it now seems that Topić no longer enjoys the high-level political “protection” that he is once reputed to have had in his adopted homeland.”At the same time other sources in Croatia have pointed out that a number of criminal complaints against Topić are still sitting on the desk of the Public Prosecutor in Zagreb. It is rumoured that during the time when Ivo Josipovic was President of Croatia (January 2010 to January 2015), he colluded with the then Chief State Attorney Mladen Bajic to obstruct the processing of criminal charges against Topić. However Josipovic failed to secure re-election in 2015 and he has since faded from the political scene in Croatia. Due to these developments it now seems that Topić no longer enjoys the high-level political “protection” that he is once reputed to have had in his adopted homeland.

Following the recent snap parliamentary elections in September 2016 a new Croatian government is expected to be formed soon.

It remains to be seen how effective the new government will be in clearing up the various messes left behind by previous administrations but many people in Croatia are hopeful that a new and less corrupt era may finally be dawning in Croatian politics. It could be that the Public Prosecutor finally starts to take action in relation to certain cases concerning alleged irregularities in the management of the SIPO which appear to have got stuck in the legal pipeline over the last decade.

“Only time can tell whether Team Battistelli will ride off intact into the sunset in 2018 as planned or whether it is in danger of being prematurely “balkanised at sunrise” by the slow but inexorable grinding of the mills of the Croatian legal system.”In view of these developments observers of the EPO are recommended to keep a watchful eye on Team Battistelli’s south-eastern flank over the coming months.

At the moment it is too early to say whether the Balkan Express will continue to chug along on its merry way until its recently rescheduled end of service or whether it might not be suddenly derailed if the prevailing political winds in Croatia happen to shift in an unfavourable direction.

At this juncture we will not risk making any predictions either way. Only time can tell whether Team Battistelli will ride off intact into the sunset in 2018 as planned or whether it is in danger of being prematurely “balkanised at sunrise” by the slow but inexorable grinding of the mills of the Croatian legal system.

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