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01.22.19

The Whitewashing of the EPO Under António Campinos

Posted in Deception, Europe, Patents at 6:51 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Same shit, different colour

António Campinos FTI

Summary: The charm offensive of the ‘new and improved’ EPO President seems to mostly boil down to a PR campaign, as we expected all along

IT has been bad enough to witness (so far this year) US patent maximalists suggesting tips for bypassing 35 U.S.C. § 101 and getting software patents from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) even if courts repeatedly and explicitly reject these (no respect for judges and the law). This year we prefer to focus on the European Patent Office (EPO), which is undergoing a reputation recovery (or laundering) campaign that’s pretty shallow to see. There’s nothing but ‘happy stories’ from IP Kat, where they even deleted almost 40 comments (an entire thread about António Campinos) that were critical but reasonably polite; almost not a single comment about EPO scandals has appeared since (we are watching all the comments and have been watching every single one since then, via RSS feeds).

The EPO’s patent quality is not improving; there is more advocacy of software patents in Europe than ever before (we saw a few more examples in today’s EPO tweets; they just use buzzwords as surrogates). This is a Campinos policy. He also helps and promotes patent trolls. It’s grim. Konstanze Richter and Mathieu Klos are now ‘sweeping up’ for EPO management, trying to give the impression things improve when they don’t really change at all (except reduced transparency). They’re just posted this in their new site in English and added this tweet: “New brooms sweep clean, or so they say. It’s been a tempestuous few years at the European Patent Office. With a controversial president and numerous structural reforms, many in the European patent community had begun to lose fait…” (truncated/cut, leading to a Microsoft link tracker/ID by cookie, which we omit in the interests of privacy)

The article is excessively/abundantly quoting EPO management, especially new managers so as to give the impression everything is fine now (see the headline of the article too, “Clearing the cobwebs”… as if “whitewashing” is now a sort of white-sweeping or clean-sweeping). Maybe sweeping under some rug (secrets and crimes, e.g. Battistelli corruption).

The article has some seemingly balanced bits, for example regarding patent quality:

A current survey by the EPO among its users is seen by patent firms as a positive sign that the institution takes their concerns seriously. But not everyone shares this optimism. A Dutch patent attorney said, “We get the impression that Campinos is sticking to his predecessor’s efficiency strategy. In this case, there will be no real positive changes for the users of the system.”

The EPO employees, who in recent years have repeatedly taken to the streets to protest Battistelli’s efficiency strategy and increasing work pressure, also hope for change. The Administrative Council set out clear expectations for the new president. “We want to achieve social harmony,” the former chairman told JUVE Patent in an interview in November 2017.

“Before the appointment of António Campinos, it was made clear that all 38 member states are looking for action on this from President Battistelli’s successor.”

Since taking office in mid-2018, Campinos has been actively seeking dialogue with the workforce. He is generally regarded as accessible and open to criticism. A patent attorney in the Netherlands is of the impression that, “he is doing his best to end the social unrest in the EPO and improve the atmosphere.” Initial progress is visible. When describing talks with EPO employees, Thomas Kitzhofer from Munich law firm Prinz & Partner says, “The internal mood has noticeably improved.”

[...]

However, not everyone is of this opinion. “Campinos has had six months to make many changes, but he hasn’t yet,” says an EPO expert. Two employees and members of the SUEPO trade union, Ion Brumme and Malika Weaver, the first suspended and the other demoted under Battistelli, have meanwhile been reinstated and restored to their posts following judgments of the Administrative Tribunal of the International Labour Organisation (ILOAT).

Union members Elizabeth Hardon and Laurent Prunier, on the other hand, have been neither reinstated nor compensated. “Campinos is said to have offered them an amicable settlement,” an insider told JUVE Patent.

The fact no insiders and even some external patent attorneys contacted by JUVE Patent did not want to be named indicates the depth of mistrust towards EPO management in some parts of the workforce. They do not trust the new peace, perhaps due to some of Battistelli’s former confidants still being part of the management committee.

[...]

Implemented in 2017, the structural reform of the Boards of Appeal remains controversial for much of the patent community. This was one of the EPO’s most important projects in the ‘Battistelli era’, where the Administrative Council initiated an extensive but incomplete separation of the court from the EPO.

Now, the Boards of Appeal has had its own president for one and a half years. The separation is also a physical one, having moved from the centre of Munich to Haar, on the eastern edge of the city.

Some patent attorneys and lawyers continue to complain that the Boards of Appeal still lack independence. Its current president, Carl Josefsson, manages both legal and administrative matters. He is, however, still dependent on the EPO president in terms of budgetary concerns and his own reappointment.

“While the reforms were presented as increasing the independence of the Boards, it remains highly doubtful as to whether this was actually achieved,” said a British patent attorney. Another problem is the “ever worsening backlog of cases because of a near-total freeze in recruitment to a large number of Boards of Appeal under Battistelli.”

This development is all the more troubling as the feared problems with quality in patent applications as a result of the efficiency strategy are likely to lead to a significant increase in the number of appeals, and thus to an increased workload for the Boards in the coming years.

This work cannot be done anymore; not properly because the backlog is massive (perhaps over 10,000 cases by now). They’re just flooding the system with junk patents. As Adam Lacy and Thorsten Bausch put it almost 2 months ago: “Despite the considerable backlog of 9200 cases, there is finally light at the end of the tunnel!”

9,200 cases?! How much is that per person? And it grows fast.

Earlier today I was told by Florian Müller that it’s “[a]lways funny when those #Qualcomm employees are asked about the number of #patents they hold. Typically dozens or even hundreds per person. Shows how low the standard for patentability is (not a $QCOM-specific issue, but a systemic problem).”

This is what’s happening in the EPO right now. Also earlier today cambridgenetwork.co.uk published a pure puff piece titled “Cambridge intellectual property practice Marks & Clerk named EU’s top patent filer,” basically noting that Marks & Clerk pollutes the system with loads of rubbish patents, including software patents as we wrote earlier today. “Leading global intellectual property practice Marks & Clerk – which has an office in Cambridge – has been named the UK’s top patent filer,” says the ‘article’ (more like a commericial) and shortly after that Graham Burnett-Hall (Marks & Clerk) wrote about the UPC as follows:

Alongside this, the Government is also committed to participating in the unitary patent system and the Unified Patent Court that, if and when it comes into being, will underpin the unitary patent system.

Putting aside the fact that JUVE too is promoting/rewarding Team UPC, what we have here is this old perpetuation of falsehoods. Just like in JUVE (more so their new English site).

How does EPO staff feel? Well, JUVE quotes some rather old words from staff, but almost all the quotes come from Team Campinos (people whom he has just given high-paying jobs) and the patent microcosm.

An article noted by SUEPO on Tuesday (earlier today) gives the staff’s side of the story, based on communications from the CSC (gagged and threatened by Bergot), alleging that EPO staff is still being treated as “second-class European civil servants”:

“There is no reason why EPO staff should be treated as second-class European civil servants and that the weakest of our colleagues could be at the mercy of a hierarchy having a record of performance in badly treating staff, up to dismissing staff representatives who normally would enjoy special protection”, the CSC’s letter said.

“Legally speaking, we consider that Article 52 cannot be applied as it stands without any procedures defined for identifying, dealing with and remedying underperformance/incompetence. Pending the above, no single procedure on incompetence should be started.”

In the letter, the CSC questioned whether the new president, who took up the role in July last year, and the new vice presidents, who took office on 1 January 2019, will help the office take a different view on human resources policy, labour law and social dialogue.

An EPO source said that the concerns around article 52 extend to possible appeals at the International Labour Organisation’s Administrative Tribunal, where the allegedly incomplete proposals will most likely be found illegal.

The source explained that this was the reason the CSC had originally warned Campinos to take note of the procedure.

The source noted that Campinos was now six months into the job at the EPO and the “ill-designed policies implemented under his predecessor are still in”.

“This is really worrying since from background, Mr Campinos is a jurist and he was hired by the administrative council to improve the situation inherited from Battistelli.”

Yes, nothing has changed for the better and some readers insist that things have changed for the worse, albeit rather secretly. Maybe JUVE should look into that. We can’t help wondering if some external PR agency was assigned to twist/manipulate the media as it did happen before (we published leaks to that effect). That happened more than once, for a fact, and it even targeted German media specifically (publishers like JUVE).

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