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Inside the EPO During Corona: The Management of the European Patent Office Was (Fore)Warned About Exploiting a Public Health Crisis

Posted in Europe, Patents at 4:22 pm by Guest Editorial Team

It’s a matter of public record now

Health pills

Summary: An “OPEN LETTER” (not open to the public but to EPO staff) correctly asserts — in a much-needed statement for the record — that “postponement of reforms is necessary” because EPO staff is already under great and growing stress due to the pandemic (this was in March when lock-downs were extended to countries other than Italy)

“Coronavirus pandemic: postponement of reforms [sic] is necessary” was an open letter from the Central Staff Committee, issued to António Campinos back in March. Like Benoît Battistelli before him, Campinos knew how to exploit crises outside the EPO (e.g. terror attacks) to implement repressive new measures.

Here’s the full letter as it was circulated almost 8 months ago (remember that at the time of this letter lock-downs were just days away in the UK and travel between countries was getting difficult for these examiners who work away from their home country).

European Patent Office | 80298 MUNICH | GERMANY
Reference: sc20048cl-0.3.1/4.2.2
Date: 19.03.2020

Mr António Campinos
President of the EPO
Room 1081 – ISAR


Coronavirus pandemic: postponement of reforms is necessary

Dear Mr President,

Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, governments in Europe are now concentrating their efforts on ensuring that their citizens are safe and to limit the number of casualties. Some also delay discussions on (important) reforms which are not a priority.

The pandemic severely affects the Office, too, where many colleagues are now staying at home, trying to reconcile work and family obligations, such as caring for (young) children whose schools are closed. The first priority of the Office must be the health of staff and their families. Anything else should be put on the back burner. The specific situation of an International Organisation like the EPO, which acts as an employer but also in many respect takes over responsibilities of a sovereign state, imposes a reinforced duty of care.

For us to perform our duties as staff representatives in accordance with Article 34 ServRegs1 we will need to stay in close contact with staff to exchanges information, sentiments and opinions. Your persistent refusal to permit free e-mail traffic with all staff has already significantly hampered us in efficiently and effectively representing staff. With the COVID-19-induced restrictions on contacts and a de facto shut-down of the Office we now, on top, also cannot gather staff in General Assemblies to inform them and get their feedback. The most important element of consultation, namely the possibility for the elected interlocutors to be able to consult the group they represent, is missing. We therefore currently have the greatest difficulties representing staff in consultations that concern the employment package.

In addition, the pandemic also affects the good functioning of the Administrative Council (AC) and its bodies, notably the Budget and Finance Committee (BFC).

In such an unfavourable context, the far-reaching reforms which you were intending to put on the agendas of the May BFC meeting and the June AC meeting should simply be postponed until halfway normal conditions are restored, especially as there is no urgency to implement a new salary adjustment procedure (SAP) in view of Article 10 of the current SAP (automatic reconduction for one year).

Continuing to rush important reforms in the current circumstances would be rightly perceived as taking advantage of an exceptional crisis and displaying a profound disregard for staff, further eroding the trust in the Organisation. It would also bear the serious risk of making those reforms illegal.

We urge you to postpone your plans for reforming the SAP until the Coronavirus pandemic is contained so as to allow normal functioning of staff representation, the Office and its supervising bodies. Meanwhile we can continue to exchange (in writing or by video conference) and hopefully make progress towards an acceptable compromise on a new SAP.

Yours sincerely,
Alain Dumont
Acting Chairman of the Central Staff Committee

cc.: AC delegations
Ms Nellie Simon; Vice-President DG4

1 “[The Staff Committee] shall contribute to the smooth running of the service by providing a channel for the expression of opinion by the staff”.

It is already known by now (it has been a long time) that the advice in this letter was disregarded; the Office plans layoffs and it is going ahead with its illegal plans, often under the convenient cover of a public health crisis. Later in the series we’ll highlight representatives’ response to that.

With decreasing work security (hard to find alternative employment when so many people out there are unemployed) it’s cruel for an Office with billions in the bank to crush its sole asset: the staff. But when the Office is run by incompetent autocrats and their longtime friends what else can be expected?

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