08.01.20

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EPO Workers Are Losing Their Homes and Losing Their Time Off; It’s All About So-called ‘Production’

Posted in Europe, Patents at 6:57 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

A week ago: No Real Holiday in EPOnia (‘Island’ of the European Patent Office)

EPO summer holiday
Thoughtful publication from the EPO’s Central Staff Committee; but there are deeper and darker forces at play

Summary: As another wave of attack on labour rights, European Patent Office (EPO) workers turn their homes into their workplaces and they no longer enjoy any real breaks from work (they work all year around, sometimes until midnight and overnight); they’re supposed to be thankful and even happy as if António Campinos does them a favour by not firing them (at least not yet) and because there’s a health crisis they should be grateful for anything thrown at them (Benoît Battistelli + disaster = Campinos)

THE subject of “remote work” (a misnomer because home is naturally “local” and inherently not “remote”… unless we assume that “local” means “at work” or “away”, which is paradoxical) has long been explored here; being a site about tech rights, and dealing with matters pertaining to people who work on computers (jobs that can be completed from virtually anywhere), this is important to us. The EPO’s Central Staff Committee calls it “telework”, which is probably a reasonably accurate term (implying distance). I’ve worked both from offices and from home, in ‘hybrid mode’ between 2007 and 2011, and then purely from home since then. I have very cynical views on the whole thing. Regarding journalists, I often blast corporate ones because I know how their newsrooms work, no matter if centralised or distributed (decentralised). In fact, back in the years 2007 and 2008 I worked as a freelance technical journalist — for a US publication (albeit from the UK) — and afterwards I became entirely independent (I did not appreciate censorship by editors and I realised that any good journalist is to be feared — not “loved” or “respected” — by those whom he or she covers; because journalism must not be PR or PR-like and advertisers shouldn’t have a say on what’s published).

“People need to find a voice and they’ve been rendered voiceless by EPO management that threatens them, silences them, waters down words in their internal publications, and limits the dissemination of their publications.”People everywhere, not just EPO workers, ought to reject the idea that home is “remote” and webstreams are “conferences” or “events” (glorified terms for people who just sit on a laptop somewhere, virtually chatting to one another). We’ve long spoken about upsides and downsides of working from home and what that means. We’ve also spoken about the media’s silence regarding EPO scandals. Having spoken to some people who used to cover EPO scandals, I have a rough idea of what’s going on. I also saw some threatening letters. So it hardly surprises me that few people are still receiving EPO leaks and tips (few people if not one person in Kluwer Patent Blog, Barney Dixon when he was still active and also us). People need to find a voice and they’ve been rendered voiceless by EPO management that threatens them, silences them, waters down words in their internal publications, and limits the dissemination of their publications. This is very wrong. This is very China-like.

“2 publications from Staff Rep,” one source told us, serve to highlight doubts and concerns also among the Central Staff Committee (CSC), which is less ‘combative’ and more soft-spoken than the union, SUEPO. We also know, based on prior publications, that the EPO’s management sort of gets involved and participates in the publication as a toning-down participant.

The publication below, sc20129cp, came with following concise text:

“***Email sent on behalf of the CSC***

Irregularities in the application of the provisions
The Office provides recommendations and defines instructions applicable during the current pandemic. These provisions concern the postponement of home leave, the possibility to telework from a member state, travel to risk areas etc. The CSC is becoming aware of cases where colleagues have had restricted access to these special measures. It appears that there are no consistent rules being applied. Should you be confronted with any contradicting guidance, please contact your Staff Representation.

Here is our more detailed publication.

Sincerely yours,

Your Central Staff Committee

Here’s the text from the publication itself, which is less compact than the accompanying E-mail message (but conveys the same):

Central Staff Committee
Munich 29.07.2020
sc20120cp – 0.2.1/4.3

“Strong together” – Special provisions to be respected

Dear colleagues,

In the intranet area “Strong together”1 the Office provides recommendations and defines instructions applicable during the current pandemic. The special measures taken by the office to ease the difficulties that all of us, as part of the society, are currently undergoing are valued. Among these, measures such as the postponement of the home leave or the possibility to telework from a member state other than the host state are highly appreciated.

The Office recommends staff to avoid all non-essential travel and advises against visits to people in high risk groups, such as elderly relatives2. Consequently, the Office explicitly acknowledges that, under such conditions, the home leave can exceptionally be postponed beyond the end of the home leave cycle if the end date of the current quota falls within the current restricted travel period3.

Nevertheless, if you need or freely decide to travel home you are requested to ensure the ability to work remotely at all times, even when travelling during the summer break, in the event that Coronavirus developments prevent you from returning to the Office. Here too, coherently, the Office allows you to telework from abroad, even in combination with leave.

The special provisions set forth in the intranet area “Strong together” follow the management instructions and should therefore be respected, especially in view of the Office’s declared strong concern for staff and their families wellbeing and safety during the current pandemic.

____
1 http://my.internal.epo.org/portal/private/epo/work/healthsafety/?WCM_GLOBAL_CONTEXT=/epo/intranet/work/healthsafety/coronavirus
2 http://my.internal.epo.org/portal/private/epo/work/healthsafety/?WCM_GLOBAL_CONTEXT=/epo/intranet/work/healthsafety/coronavirus/life_health_wellbeing/1589382328109_travel_latest_status
3 http://my.internal.epo.org/portal/private/epo/work/healthsafety/?WCM_GLOBAL_CONTEXT=/epo/intranet/work/healthsafety/coronavirus/work


However, we are recently becoming aware of several cases where colleagues are being denied or have had restricted access to these special measures. Furthermore, it appears that there are no consistent rules being applied, meaning that staff members in similar situations may be faced with different outcomes. Therefore, should you be confronted with any guidance contradicting said instructions, we encourage you to consult your Staff Representation.

We remind you that these special provisions are valid during the present crisis (i.e. so far until the 31 December 2020), and therefore supersede, during this time, any contradictory regulation otherwise applicable in normal times.

Your Central Staff Committee

Reading it carefully, patiently and critically, the CSC (which we can understand is ‘filtered’ to some degree by management) is highlighting mixed messages from management. That was in the E-mail body’s as well.

“…the EPO is being selfish here because it wants so-called ‘production’ to remain high and if people come to the office and get sick, that puts that ‘production’ in jeopardy.”The ability to work from home isn’t a gift; the EPO is being selfish here because it wants so-called ‘production’ to remain high and if people come to the office and get sick, that puts that ‘production’ in jeopardy. If it was about complying with national guidelines, the management would at least provide masks. We’ve also extracted the text from the image at the top, which reads as follows:

Summer holiday-voluntary teleworking-mandatory teleworking – think and reflect

This crisis mode continues over the summer holidays, albeit while normalization returns outside the office. The coming of a second wave that is frequently being discussed in society is often placed in autumn. Anticipating the second wave, the EPO prolongs the “crisis” mode until 31st of December.

When does the crisis stop? Does it feel “normal”? Normal to have work and private time blurred, and now possibly holidays and work?

In September the office will undertake a survey to find its way to balance the needs and wishes of staff and the need to keep the sense of belonging to the organization for the future of work at the EPO.

Please take your time during summer to ponder and to feel what your needs and concerns are, and what your expectations are from an employer that cares for you also in time of remote working. Reflect what the price
of working from your home country would be. Do you believe it is a gift and that nothing will be asked for in return?

Ask yourself

It’s advised you take your laptop with you when going on holiday. What does it mean to you? Is it insured?

If you cannot return to your work country due to a lockdown and cannot work from there, are you required to take annual leave, or do you get authorized absence? Is unpaid leave a possibility? What is reasonable, what is common sense?

Whose liability is it – if not working from your official workplace – to guarantee that work related data are protected and secured? What is your, and what is the office’s responsibility?

Are you teleworking from your place of vacation/ place of home leave? What is the duty of care? Is it similar to duty travel? What happens if you end up in a lock down then? Who is covering the costs for your remote workplace? Do you face any consequences regarding tax?

Maybe you are asked to work a couple of days while on holiday. Why? Are you doing it? Why are you doing it? Do you accumulate flexi time?

Are you voluntarily teleworking during your leave, or does the pandemic force you to do so?

Do you have additional costs? What do other IOs/ companies/ countries or the EU do? Are employees elsewhere in member states getting weekly allowances for costs or for their difficulties? Can EPO create its own world?

Do you know which regulation applies to you in case you would be asked by the tax authorities of your home country or the country where you are working from during the pandemic to make a tax declaration? Did the EPO inform you accordingly?

If you travel

TAKE SCREENSHOTS OF WHAT THE CURRENT TRAVEL ADVICE IS (MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS – AUSWÄRTIGES AMT), AS WELL AS A CERTIFICATE OF EMPLOYMENT!

If you are teleworking

COLLECT BILLS, TAKE NOTES of your additional costs, and anything that is related to work and is different compared to the situation before March.

A CRISIS MODE is an exceptional situation. In the aftermath there must be room to reevaluate the period of crisis and come to reasonable reimbursements.

Finally, on the long term there will be many changes to your perception of work culture, personal contact with colleagues, working day and working habits. How do you feel, what do you think about that? Project your feelings and considerations on long periods of remote work, at least until December 31st, because this is for sure.

And share with us your questions or thoughts!

Send an email to mnstcom@epo.org, or grab the phone!

As someone who has worked from home since 2007 (and exclusively from home since 2011), all I can say is that the CSC incorrectly asserts — perhaps under pressure — that there’s something to be thanked for here. I beg to differ. The staff pays for it in a lot of ways, including privacy and freedom from the workplace. To the Office it has nothing to do with accommodating health or convenience of workers; it is all about “targets” and so-called ‘production’.

As the Office is now run by nontechnical people (we’ve studied their background and it’s a miracle they got those high position) all they know is how to count. And they count the wrong things. They measure nonsense. The EPO is all pseudoscience at the upper/higher floors.

Just before the weekend the following article was published in The National Law Review regarding “European Patent Application Numbering” and it said:

Have you ever wondered why European patent applications sometimes include a “dot” in their number and what is the significance of the number after the dot?

Well, we have. Some of our colleagues from non-EU offices have asked us about the meaning and significance of the dot (decimal point) and the digit after it, in European patent applications. Following various responses from our colleagues such as “You know, I am not sure,” or “I have always been curious, but not curious enough,” we decided to find out. For those seeking an article that dives into the critical scholarship of intellectual property laws, this may not be the one for you.

The first applications for the European patent were filed at the European Patent Office (“EPO”) on 1 June 1978. The history of numbering dates back to this date. Although the format may seem rather arbitrary, every digit and “dot” has a particular significance.

Firstly, the initial digits of the patent application number do not refer to the code for the particular type of IP right as you may find in other national patent application numbers in Europe. Instead, the first and second digits (from left to right) indicate the filling year (according to the Gregorian calendar).

Numbers, numbers, numbers…

The USPTO has the same sickness now. It’s like a manufacturing floor, not a patent office.

European patent applications aren’t measured by their quality or merit anymore, just their quantity; this is all wrong and we shall talk about it in our next post. Imagine opening a personal patent office that automatically enshrines any European patent application as a legitimate patent (INPI is close to that); well, if those patents have legal ‘teeth’ (not actual merit), then they may seem attractive, e.g. in pursuit of injunctions, so demand for them will grow. But the growth in the number of applications and grants says just about nothing about innovation. Right now the Office doesn’t care too much where the patents are received and granted provided that workers grant as many of them as possible and as fast as possible. China did the same thing as recently as years ago, in effect ‘stuffing’ WIPO registries with loads of garbage patents. Something to be celebrated? Maybe if you’re in the patent litigation business.

The EPO doesn’t care where you work from as long as you ‘rubber-stamp’ — and rubber-stamp ‘on the cheap’ (all around the clock).

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