12.31.21

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2018, 2019, 2020, 2021: 4 Years of António Campinos Failing and EPO Granting Loads of Invalid Patents

Posted in Europe, Patents at 9:19 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Video download link | md5sum 640866be4f6461a68485cdf7ca904c88

Summary: According to an internal (February 2021) publication from elected leaders of EPO examiners, António Campinos has failed to enchant the staff and has performed “far below expectations”

THE report below was published in February 2021 by people who had suffered the wrath of Team Battistelli. The EPO has been largely the same under António Campinos, who just needed to obey ILO rulings and could therefore not engage in some of the same witch-hunts (though he continued to try to find some dirt on Elizabeth Hardon, based on the text below).

“Well, the rule of law was abandoned a long time ago and we have a couple more installments about mis-governance and mismanagement of the EPO.”The growing issue of European software patents (disguised as “Hey Hi” and other buzzwords) is made apparent by the part which speaks of patent “quality issues with 1 out of 4 grants not being compliant”. The law/litigation firms profit from these and these patent maximalists want to impose this non-compliance on courts too, using the UPC. Incidentally, Miquel Montañá (Clifford Chance) pretends everything will be OK as “EPO will be responsible for granting the forthcoming European patents with unitary effect,” (not really, this makes the false assumption that UPC is inevitable and impending) and that “it is only natural to wonder whether, in view of this responsibility and the fact that these patents will be scrutinized by the Unified Patent Court, the organs of the European Patent Organisation will go the extra mile to ensure the utmost respect for the rule of law.”

Well, the rule of law was abandoned a long time ago and we have a couple more installments about mis-governance and mismanagement of the EPO. There’s lots more (in terms of examples) in the publication below, which I’ve commented on in the video above.

01 February 2021
su21002mp – 0.2.1

SUEPO Chairman’s report 2019 – 2020

The SUEPO Munich committee election for the period 2019-2020 took place in November/December 2018. The Election results were announced on 19 December 2018, and the committee constituted on 14 January 2019. Presently the committee is composed of seven members and two deputy members. A much needed and welcomed improvement for the SUEPO committee, since the previous committee was only composed of three members (Malika Weaver, Tom De Backer and Ion Brumme).

Operational

In January 2019 the office mandated Willis Towers Watson to perform an office-wide “Staff Engagement Survey” (the first since 2011). In a publication to staff on 30 January 2019, the Munich SUEPO committee encouraged EPO staff members to take part in the survey and to voice their opinion “unhindered and without fear of reprisals”.

Indeed, the survey showed, as expected, a particularly deep mistrust in higher management of the Office. Over 85% of staff members answered the survey and thousands of free-text comments were added. Despite the fact that the President wants everyone to know that he considers transparency to be of paramount importance, he never allowed these comments to be published (not even in anonymized form).

In February 2019 an audit of IT infrastructure at the EPO, performed by the Boston Consulting Group, painted a very negative picture. This was in stark contrast to the IT Roadmap Final Report, made under the Battistelli administration just 6 months previously. This latter report mentioned that the EPO had “state of the art” IT infrastructure and that after 8 years of work 90% of the IT programs were almost finished. The new audit, however, criticized that the lauded IT programs were in fact 90% not future-ready, meaning that the 223 million euro invested in the EPO IT infrastructure under Battistelli had been completely wasted.

A few months later, and without questioning the loss of 223 million euro, the Administrative Council (AC) decided that an even greater budget of 300 million euro would bring the IT infrastructure back on track. This new investment and the introduction of new staff in the IT area, now known as BIT and led by the new VP4, Nellie Simon, showed its value during the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic. More on this later.

Nine months after Mr. Campinos’ inauguration, SUEPO published a paper revealing all the urgent issues which Mr. Campinos failed to deal with in this time (unchanged production pressure, quality issues with 1 out of 4 grants not being compliant, no improvement in social dialogue, 26 million euro wasted for renting a building in Haar for the Boards of Appeal when half of BT8 has been kept empty for years, etc.).

In June 2019, following a very disappointing meeting on 16 May 2019 when it became abundantly clear that the President had no intention in making any progress with union issues, SUEPO informed the President that it would call for a strike.

For his first year in office SUEPO reviewed the President’s performance as “far below expectations”.

In October 2019 EPO General Assemblies (GA) were held in all places of employment to inform staff of the bias in the freshly-published Financial Study which had been mandated by the President and carried out by Mercer and Oliver Wyman.

SUEPO published a four-part publication entitled “Financial Study – Yet Another Hoax”. The Financial Study was indeed so severely flawed that it became obvious to all EPO staff that it was merely a pretext for further cuts in the employment package, including pay.

A demonstration, the first to be held during Mr. Campinos’ presidency, took place on 23 October 2019 in front of the Isar building and at the same time as an Administrative Council meeting.

In November 2019, EPO management presented staff with 17 measures, aimed at covering an alleged financial gap of 3.8 billion euro. The President, of his own volition and without providing any evidence, demanded another 2 billion euro from staff as a so-called financial buffer. It is obvious that this Financial Study cannot be taken seriously. Not even the Administration trusted the outcome, which is why a more than 50% (2 billion euro) buffer was added to take any error into account. It is quite interesting that for other EPO-financed projects within the Office the financial margin of error is always assumed to be in lower single digits. However, when staff must pay, the outcome is so detached from reality that the President finds a 50% error buffer necessary.

It was abundantly clear that EPO staff was going to be the only stakeholder paying for the alleged financial gap. SUEPO therefore informed the President that it would organize a strike ballot to see how high the support for a strike would be. Participation was high, with thousands of staff members voting across all places of employment and with a massive 84% of votes in favour of a strike.

2019 ended in turmoil, with a General Assembly on 11 December 2019 and a resolution demanding that the President conduct a new independent assessment of the EPO financial situation.

2020 started in the same way that 2019 ended – with the EPO in total disarray.

Despite numerous interventions, suggestions, proposals, and explanations by Staff Representatives in the Working Group concerned with the new Salary Adjustment Procedure (SAP), Elodie Bergot (PD4.3) forced a new and faulty SAP through the AC without the support of either Staff Representation or staff members.

Meanwhile, SUEPO Munich developed an online salary simulator where every staff member could calculate the detrimental effect this new SAP would have on his/her salary for the years to come. The salary simulator provided an exceptionally good visual aid to clearly see the loss of purchasing power which every one of us will have to endure in the coming years and for the rest of our active and retired lives.

Since the Office was not inclined to carry out a real independent financial study, SUEPO took over this task.

In May 2020, SUEPO subsequently published the analysis of Ernst & Young, in the form of a new independent Financial Study. The Office was stunned to see that one of the big four consultant companies had confirmed the position expressed by SUEPO and by the Pensioners Association. During the next Administrative Council meeting the President threatened to open an investigation into the ethical policy of Ernst & Young, wondering how the authors of a Financial Study could have possibly complied with it. Of course, nothing happened because the President has no jurisdiction over other companies. Furthermore, all ethical and conflict-of-interest aspects had been properly assessed and considered at the time the Financial Study had been carried out.

In their report, Ernst & Young identified a series of ‘conservative’ (read totally wrong) assumptions made by Mercer and Oliver Wyman. Ernst & Young identified further technical mistakes, such as non-compliance with the general principles of discounting financial positions, as stipulated by the IDW (Institute der Wirtschaftsprüfer).

The 2019 Financial study by Mercer and Oliver Wyman can only be viewed as excessively overcautious. It also reflects the clearly malicious intention of the EPO Administration to find an artificial financial gap for the sole purpose of degrading the conditions of staff. SUEPO will support its members in their legal battle against this unjust and unilateral cut in EPO staff’s purchasing power. The ILOAT will not be happy to see the number of EPO complaints rise again, but the Administration has left the staff with no other choice.

A link to the entire Ernst & Young Financial Study with more explanations can be found on the SUEPO Munich and SUEPO Central webpages.

In April 2020 SUEPO helped coordinate the filling of a Request for Management Review against the reduced possibility of contributing towards the Salary Savings Plan (SSP). This possibility had been promised to young colleagues when they entered the EPO. It should be noted that the injection of cash into the SSP has been 16 times higher for Senior Management than for staff members in lower grades.

Following the disastrous implementation of the SAP, SUEPO and Staff Representation called an online General Assembly (GA) to discuss next steps. The GA was attended by over 1300 staff in Munich, the highest ever GA attendance. The outcome was that staff mandated SUEPO to draft a petition demanding renegotiation of the SAP and also mandated SUEPO to call for a strike. A strike took place on 15 December 2020 to coincide with the last Administrative Council meeting of 2020. Thousands of staff have also signed the petition – the closing date was 31 January 2021.

During December 2020, staff representation in cooperation with SUEPO initiated a so-called floor meeting action. Seven virtual meetings were held in Munich, with hundreds of staff attending every meeting. This information campaign had the additional effect that staff rallied in great numbers in support of striking. 1448 staff members went on strike. It was the highest number of staff members that had taken part in industrial action since 2016 and a clear signal to the President that there cannot be social peace in the EPO if staff is not heard.

As such, the year 2020 ended as it started – in total disarray. Not a pretty picture for a President who likes to boost about his negotiation skills, his transparency and his fairness to all (“nobody should be left behind”).

Political cases

In July 2018 the EPO was found guilty by the ILOAT in interfering in SUEPO affairs and for unlawfully dismissing its Chair, Elizabeth Hardon. Not only was the decision to dismiss her set aside but the EPO was also ordered to pay her moral damages. One would think that a new President would be keen to distance himself from the managers responsible for this abuse, and to close the worst chapter in the 40 years’ history of the EPO. We were thus surprised when instead of swiftly complying with the judgement (Judgement 4047) the office thought it would be better to only partly follow it and instead initiate yet another disciplinary action against Ms. Hardon (the third one) trying to still somehow find her guilty of something.

It took the Office more than a year to finally come to its senses and settle the case. In November 2019, more than 4 years after she had been unlawfully dismissed because of her job in Staff Representation and as SUEPO Chair, the EPO finally found a way to settle with Ms. Hardon, fearing, of course, another embarrassment in front of the Tribunal.

In July 2020, the Office also reached a settlement with yet another high ranking SUEPO official, Laurent Prunier from The Hague. His ordeal, being unlawfully dismissed for being a Staff Representative and Vice Chair of SUEPO The Hague, also lasted more than four years.

We are very happy for both of them that they can finally put this nightmare behind them.

Nevertheless, there are still two unresolved cases: Aurelien Petiaud (MU) and Michael Lund (TH). Both have been unfairly prosecuted and downgraded just for having done their jobs as Staff Representatives nominated in the Appeals Committee. The President has no interest in settling these cases. We will continue to support them in the pursuit of justice because they have been unfairly punished and unjustly downgraded.

All of the above are not ‘one off cases’ but have resulted from a coordinated campaign of Union bashing, championed by Ms. Bergot as head of the Human Resources (HR) department (P.D. 4.3) and with the full support and knowledge of both the previous and present Presidents. The Employment Law department, working directly under the supervision of Ms. Bergot, prides itself as being bold in pushing the interpretation of the law to the extreme, irrespective of the damage done to staff. For instance, Mr. Laurent Germond, head of the Employment Law department, wrote in the report on ILOAT judgements published in the EPO intranet on 09.07.2018 that ‘the EPO was aware that it is highly sensitive to impose such disciplinary measures’ against staff representatives and Union representatives or against persons appointed by these bodies. Nevertheless, the Office decided to try it anyway just to see how far it can go. It is appalling that the Employment Law department is more focused on trying to push extreme legal interpretations to favor the wish of a manager rather than protecting its staff from harm. The mantra in the Employment Law department seems to be that as long as the ILOAT does not impose a judgement one way or another, every interpretation of the Service Regulations favouring the Office is fair play. Arguing in favour of common sense and applying the law as it was meant to be is pointless when confronted with EPO lawyers supporting this vision.

Throughout all this ordeal and at an immense cost to the Office, not only financially but also reputationally, the person responsible for attacking SUEPO officials remains in office and unsanctioned. This shows that incompetence and nepotism thrives at the EPO, at least at higher levels. As long as you are the President’s friend you can abuse anyone in the Office with impunity. We still hope that when leaving his post this President won’t leave behind a similar legacy to that of his predecessor.

Final words

To make matters worse, the Covid-19 pandemic has caused unforeseen additional problems to add to our already-brimming basket of EPO political and social problems. However, following their initial shock at working mostly from home using different methods, staff members have shown tremendous flexibility in quickly adjusting to their new environment. Presently, they appear to be able to do their jobs relatively well with no notable production drop and the 300 million euro investment in the new IT infrastructure seems to have been money well spent. For this, praise should be given to the hard-working BIT staff in DG4 as well as to Nellie Simon, the present VP4. We thank her for her leading role in the IT area. That said, we wish she would pay just as much attention to the HR area, which she is also responsible for.

SUEPO had great hopes that with a new President social dialogue at the EPO would improve. However, after two-and-a-half years “Social Dialogue” is still an empty phrase. This is not surprising, since the same managers are in charge of social dialogue now as were during the Battistelli era. As such, a quote usually attributed to Albert Einstein comes to mind: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” So, it is not surprising that until these managers are removed no substantial advance in social dialogue nor an improvement in trust of management will be seen.

Nellie Simon once wondered aloud what it would take for staff members to change their views, become more optimistic, and start to trust senior management again. Well, Ms. Simon, if the thousands of free-text comments left in the Staff Survey did not spell out the problem clearly enough then the previous paragraph surely will.

Malika Weaver
Chairman SUEPO Munich (2019)

Ion Brumme
Chairman SUEPO Munich (2020)

Happy new year, EPO staff.

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