Bonum Certa Men Certa

Conflict at the European Patent Office: Battistelli gets away with a slap on the wrist

Original: "Konflikt im Europäischen Patentamt: Blaues Auge für Battistelli"




Conflict at the European Patent Office: Battistelli gets away with a slap on the wrist

Benoît Battistelli remains in office for now. However, the Administrative Council of the European Patent Office [sic] has set the President clear guidelines for his future management of the office. This is according to a communiqué which was published yesterday. The supervisory body admitted publicly for the first time that there is deep conflict between President Battistelli and the unions, and it called on both sides to seek an amicable solution.



Battistelli_Benoît

Benoît Battistelli



Battistelli is in bitter conflict with the trade union SUEPO. He is responsible for four controversial disciplinary proceedings against three trade unionists and one Irish judge. The Office is also grappling with structural reform for greater independence of its legal tribunals, the Boards of Appeal.

The two-day meeting of the 38 members states of the European Patent Organisation ended yesterday. In the run-up to the meeting it had been publicly speculated that Battistelli would resign, after the executive committee of the Administrative Council had internally stepped up the pressure on Battstelli. German and Dutch newspapers reported that it was only a matter of deciding the size of his golden handshake. By contrast, JUVE had learned from influential delegates that the Administrative Council intended to make one more attempt at finding a peaceful solution, but under clearly-defined conditions, as has now been confirmed.

Both sides put on notice

"The resolution places an obligation on the President and makes clear that he is responsible for restoring a climate of peace in the EPO" said Dr. Philip Scholz, Speaker of the Federal Ministry of Justice and for Consumer Protection, referring to these events. However, according to the resolution, it was not only Battistelli who was under such an obligation, but also his arch-enemy, the main union SUEPO. There had been no real dialogue between the parties in recent times. The conflict had come to a head when Battistelli suspended three union leaders, including Elisabeth Hardon, who is from the Netherlands.

Now the EPO States demand that the President reach an agreement with the unions, without preconditions or exclusions. The unions have consistently demanded that the investigations against the union leaders be called off before they would enter into any agreement. The Administrative Council addressed the public criticism of these proceedings, and in particular the criticism of the methods employed by the internal Investigation Unit, and it required Battistelli to "ensure that the disciplinary measures and proceedings are not only fair, but are also seen to be fair". JUVE understands that the President was told to submit the procedures, arbitration and mediation to external review. This proposal then appeared in a rather watered-down form in the Administrative Council's communiqué.

The Administrative Council explicitly asked the President to come up with proposals for improving the procedures and for keeping the Administrative Council appropriately informed of disciplinary cases. This includes revising the Staff Regulations and Investigation Guidelines.

Battistelli said to JUVE: "On the Office's side, we will start with the requested revision of the internal Investigation Guidelines and disciplinary procedure. In parallel, a consultancy firm will launch a study, with the participation of the Staff Representation, of the reforms which have been introduced in recent years. We would like to discuss the results of this study at a conference in autumn, together with the Staff Representation, the EPO unions, the member states and other interested groups."

The Administrative Council also gave a clear message to the unions. They should work constructively and quickly with the Office management, without preconditions, towards an agreement. SUEPO is still discussing its response to the latest events, and was not available to give an official statement. However, sources close to SUEPO were suggesting that the proposal to engage an external mediator in disciplinary proceedings may provide an opportunity for progress.

Reform of the Boards of Appeal should be accelerated

The structural reform of the Boards of Appeal should now also be pushed forwards quickly. The EPO's internal tribunal decides on the legality of patent grants. However, it has recently been demonstrated that it is not sufficiently independent from the Office. Battistelli must now present the Administrative Council with new reform proposals by June, taking into account five guiding requirements which the Administrative Council set out in December, as well as the results of a legal appraisal carried out by Prof. Dan Sarooshis. The reform should then be implemented quickly.

The Administrative Council meeting also resulted in the nomination of two new Boards of Appeal Chairmen and four further members of the Boards of Appeal, as well as an external member of the Enlarged Board of Appeal. These positions had been vacant for sometime. In addition, Jesper Kongstad was confirmed as Chairman of the Administrative Council for a further three years from July 2016. (Christina Schulze, Mathieu Klos)

 

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