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05.20.17

EPO: Can the Staff Union of the European Patent Office (SUEPO) Still Save It?

Posted in Europe, Patents at 7:37 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

As with most headlines that have question marks in them, the answer might be “no” (with caveats)

Summary: Genuine concerns about the slow process at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and the lack of progress at ILO, which coincide with weakening of the unions and threat to jobs of patent examiners (leaving ordinary Europeans more vulnerable to meritless patent lawsuits)

WE are still on holiday (11,000KM from home), but we continue to receive new EPO leaks. Sooner or later we expect a lot of the ugliness to come out and be made public. But is this enough to save the EPO? Well, that depends on what “saving” means. Battistelli’s policies are going to make a lot of staff redundant and also cause great pain to European businesses (especially the smaller ones, i.e. the vast majority).

“The motion to fire Battistelli,” Petra Kramer wrote some days ago, “has been rejected, the motion evaluate the limits of immunity has been adopted.”

If Battistelli lost his immunity, that might serve to bring some justice, but is it not too late? Time is running out.

As SUEPO noted, workers’ bodies speak out about the European Court of Human Rights, but they never had any concrete/real leverage over Battistelli. He just ignores everyone who does not agree with him and if/when he can, he punishes too (firings, demotions, mental torture etc.). EPO has become like a consulate of Turkey in Bavaria, complete with its own sultan. Nominations for the Central Staff Committee closed about 5 days ago and only the brave ‘dared’ apply. No wonder…

“Two staff unions at the European Patent Agency,” said one statement, “filed a complaint against the Netherlands with the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) for violation of article 6 ECHR in combination with articles 10, 11 and 13 of the Convention.”

Another said: “The long-running conflict at the European Patent Office (EPO) over abuses of worker and trade union rights is now heading to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). SUEPO, the trade union at the EPO has filed a complaint against the Netherlands for failing to protect workers. The courts there ruled that Dutch law has no jurisdiction leaving the workers in a legal limbo. The workers have been supported by the FNV trade union and the matter has been taken up in the Dutch parliament.”

There is also this new PDF in SUEPO’s Web site, published several days ago to say:

Amsterdam 8 May 2017 – Today, two staff unions at the European Patent Agency, VEOB and SUEPO, filed a complaint against the Netherlands with the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) for violation of article 6 ECHR in combination with articles 10, 11 and 13 of the Convention.

The European Patent Organisation (EPO), which is located i.a. on Dutch territory, is infringing on the right of the unions to take collective action and to enter into collective negotiations. These are internationally recognized rights that are also guaranteed by article 10 (right to freedom of expression) and article 11 (right of freedom of assembly and association) of the ECHR. For years now, there has been a culture of intimidation by EPO-management that has severely affected the work environment. The EPO is making it impossible for the unions to effectively serve the interests of their members. Though an organization like the EPO ordinarily enjoys immunity from jurisdiction, this does not apply if the unions do not have an effective legal remedy through which to (internally) address the problems. According to standard ECtHR-case law, a national court can them assume jurisdiction.

In its judgment of 15 February 2015, the Appeals Court in The Hague held that the unions in and of themselves did not have an effective legal remedy within the EPO. The Appeals Court assumed jurisdiction and then ruled largely in favour of the unions. The EPO filed a cassation appeal, primarily in light of the dismissal of its immunity claim. The State of the Netherlands joined the cassation procedure as a party on the side of the EPO. In its judgment of 20 January 2017, the Supreme Court ruled that EPO enjoys immunity from jurisdiction after all. The consequence of this verdict for the unions is that they do not have a true legal remedy by which to address the violations of their ECHR-rights.

As state party to the Convention, the Netherlands is obliged to ensure that the ECHR is safeguarded on its territory. As this is impossible in the light of the Supreme Court judgment, the Netherlands is violating article 6 ECHR in combination with articles 10, 11 and 13 of the Convention.

The unions are represented by lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld.

There is some additional press coverage from what is typically a SUEPO-hostile site:

The Staff Union of the European Patent Office (SUEPO) has brought the Netherlands to the European Court of Human Rights amid rising tensions and alleged abuse at the EPO.

In a blog post on 9 May, SUEPO said that it previously sought protection from the Dutch courts in the form of an injunction to prevent the violation of EPO workers’ rights.

But the Supreme Court of the Netherlands upheld the EPO’s immunity, failing to “discharge their duty of care, thereby allowing a breach of fundamental rights on their soil and de facto condoning, if not endorsing, the EPO’s abuses”.

We have some new leaks coming and these ought to demonstrate not only why ECHR should take on the case but also why immunity must be removed and ILO be subjected to greater scrutiny. The deeper we look at this whole situation, the easier it becomes to see that ILO’s Administrative Tribunal is part of the problem. It gives the illusion of access to justice — something that it never delivers. ILO might as well tell the truth to Dutch authorities and ECHR; it has absolutely no control over labour rights at the EPO and at this stage, as a mater of urgency, immunity must be removed and Team Battistelli held accountable for very serious abuses, either as professionals or as civilians.

ECHR cases can take years to deal with (up to 3 years, their Web site states); that’s longer than it will take for Battistelli to totally destroy the EPO, culminating in mass layoffs. We don’t ever know what will be left of SUEPO and VEOB by that stage.

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