Take a Break from Dictatorship – Go to the Demo
Summary: EPO workers are attempting to explain to Heads of Delegations, who have so far (with few exceptions) been complicit and protective of Battistelli, why they must take immediate action
“The next demo of EPO staff is in Munich on Wednesday,” told us a reader about tomorrow, “12.30h in front of the Isar building.” The above image was produced to promote this demonstration, which we mentioned here several days ago.
“Open letter [got sent] to the Delegations of the EPO’s Administrative Council,” we were separately told. It cites Techrights in a few places. “Time to put an end to the deterioration of the European Patent system” is the title and we reproduce it below:
Open letter – by email to the Heads of Delegation
13 March 2016
Copies to: Competent Ministries of the Member States
Time to put an end to the deterioration of the European Patent system
Dear Heads and Members of the Delegations to the Administrative Council of the European Patent Organisation, dear Chairman,
Following debates in the Netherlands1, the French2 and the Bavarian3 parliaments, the social conflict at the EPO has become the subject of discussions at government level. French2,4 and Dutch5 ministers have publicly criticised Mr Battistelli for his intimidating and destructive management style. The Dutch Foreign Minister said in a recent letter: “If no visible improvements take place in the short term in the relations within the EPO, I see no other option but to discuss the situation at a high political level with the member states of the European Patent Organisation.”
The situation has not improved. On the contrary, the working atmosphere has become even more toxic. Proposed new house and security rules will, if they enter into force, entitle security staff to seize and search bags, phones and laptops of employees at any time6,7. They will also prohibit the dissemination of posters and flyers. Assemblies of more than 25 persons will require management permission. Additionally, a further reform aimed at weakening the staff representation even more has been prepared8,9.
Mr Battistelli can manage the Office without respecting staff’s fundamental rights and international labour law standards while he enjoys the privileges and immunities accorded to diplomatic agents under the Vienna Convention. But these privileges and immunities are inseparable from the right of the host state to declare any diplomatic staff member persona non grata or not acceptable “at any time and without having to explain its decision”10. From this, it flows that the host states have a special responsibility for the employees of guest organisations. At this point, it is worth noting that the delegations of the EPO’s major host states, Germany and The Netherlands, voted in favour of the strike rules (which violate Article 11 of the ECHR) and the Social Democracy reform. While it can be assumed that they were originally misguided by the president’s presentation (with the help of the German vice-president DG511) of these reforms, in the meantime, these host states must have realised that the reforms have in fact undermined labour rights, and contributed to the current crisis12 in the European Patent Organisation.
The social reforms and management by intimidation, in combination with unrealistic and arbitrary production targets, have had the effect of introducing de facto changes to the European Patent Convention (EPC) through the back door13. The European Patent Organisation has thus broken its legal contract not only with staff but also with its stakeholders (companies and consumers), including the applicants, who finance the patent system.
According to the president, these reforms were necessary to serve the EPO’s “customers” better. However, a recent independent survey14 conducted by the well-respected German legal magazine JUVE revealed that this is far from the case: firstly, less than half of the survey’s participants were happy with the current quality of the European patent examination process. Only one in 25 considers the president’s efficiency strategy useful. The survey also showed an alarming level of mistrust in Mr Battistelli (zero percent confidence rating), with the majority of respondents calling for his resignation.
Last but not least, the survey shows that a quality erosion has taken place. Low quality patents create legal uncertainty for patent applicants and their competitors. Legal uncertainty hinders investments and leads to increased litigation, which is a drag on the economy15. Seen in this light, the president’s announcement on 7 March 2017 of a 40% increase in patent grants in 2016 is alarming. It is difficult to believe that such a surge in productivity could be achievable without a drop in quality. Asserted low quality patents are equivalent to a tax on innovation since the costs are passed on to the consumers16.
The findings of the JUVE survey are in contrast with the EPO’s own quality statistics. Due to a built-in conflict of interest, the ISO-9001-certified quality measuring system for the
procedure at the EPO indicates an excellent quality, no matter what the actual quality of the product is17. Furthermore, the EPO’s quality audit department (DQA) reports direct to the president. There, Mr Battistelli measures his own quality. The Administrative Council should consider transferring DQA activities to an independent institution in order to establish a more reliable quality measuring system. This could be a first step in the direction to regain the trust of the users of the patent system.
Accept your responsibility for safeguarding a patent system that delivers the quality required by the European public and do no longer support HR policies that are unfit for an intergovernmental organisation in the 21st century.
Make sure to select the right new person for the job.
With our best regards,
The EPO-FLIER team
a group of concerned staff of the EPO who wish to remain anonymous due to the prevailing harsh social climate and absence of the rule of law at the European Patent Office
7 Circulars GCC/DOC 4/2017 (physical security), GCC/DOC 6/2017 (information security) and GCC/DOC 5/2017 (house rules)
10 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 18 April 1961
11 CA/PV 136 Minutes of the 136 th Administrative Council meeting (June 2013), page 21/48
12 B28/2/16 (02.02.2016): “The Board qualified the situation as a crisis – a view challenged by the President.”
13 Open Letters of 22 June 2016 and 11 October 2016; http://epostaff4rights.org/openletters.html
14 https://suepo.org/public/ex17003cp.pdf (German); https://suepo.org/public/ex17003cpe.pdf (English)
16 http://publications.jrc.ec.europa.eu/repository/bitstream/JRC103321/jrc103321 online version.pdf
As we explained here before, even ILO’s staff union (the ILO Staff Union as it’s called) supports the staff of the EPO, seeing what kind of abuse they’re subjected to. How much longer can all these injustices go on for? It’s damaging Europe’s reputation in the world. █