06.12.15

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Badische Zeitung Labels European Patent Office (EPO) a Police State for Use of Very Intrusive Mass Surveillance Software (Updated)

Posted in Europe, Patents at 7:07 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Badische Zeitung

HufnagelM; CC BY-SA 3.0 de

Summary: Calls for changes at the EPO have spread to the largest media in German, adding to existing pressure on Battistelli and his ilk

The latest German press report about the EPO comes from Badische Zeitung which, according to Wikipedia, “is a German newspaper based in Freiburg im Breisgau, covering the Black Forest region. It has a circulation of 145,825 and a readership of 409,000.”

The article talks about the keyloggers which we wrote about a few days ago. We received an English translation [PDF] of the article. Here it is:

European Patent Office: Conditions redolent of a police state

At the European Patent Office, computers were spied on using cameras and surveillance software. A climate of industrial unrest prevails.

Bizarre shenanigans at the European Patent Office.
Photo: DPA

Friday, 12th June 2015
By: Thomas Magenheim
Published in the print edition of the Badische Zeitung

MUNICH. The European Patent Office (EPO) in Munich and its President, Benoit Battistelli, show no signs of settling down. Towards the end of last year, publicly accessible computers at the EPO were secretly monitored using cameras and surveillance software over a period of several weeks as confirmed by a number of insiders. The Federal Ministry of Justice in Berlin under Heiko Maas (SPD) is also informed about the incident.

As a result of the surveillance a member of EPO Boards of Appeal was suspended because he is alleged to have disseminated defamatory statements about the Office and its managers. The EPO which is not subject to national German law has refused to comment.

On the other hand, the Bavarian Data Protection Commissioner Thomas Petri has spoken out about the affair. He has requested that an external data protection supervisor be assigned to the EPO because the internal inspectors are not independent enough and in the absence of any action matters are likely to get out of hand. Such a demand is, however, not enforceable. That became clear recently following the judgment of a Dutch court which confirmed that the EPO was violating fundamental rights. Battistelli declared that the court had no jurisdiction and he ignored its ruling. The controversial President also prohibited a demonstration and although such an action might not be justified under German law, the extraordinary legal status of the EPO allowed him to get away with it.

For months now a battle has been raging at the EPO headquarters in Munich between Battistelli and many of the approximately 7,000 employees. The President is reforming the Office at the behest of the 38 Member States and he is far from squeamish in the manner in which he goes about it. Battistelli has therefore been placed under an obligation by the EPO’s Administrative Council to restore social peace at the EPO. However, the recent revelations about the surveillance affair now seem likely to torpedo these efforts.

“I no longer use my office computer to access any pages which might raise suspicions about me and also only use my private phone outside the EPO because everything can be intercepted,” said an EPA employee who wishes to remain anonymous. Many of his colleagues expressed similar sentiments. The goings-on inside the EPO nowadays resemble what was previously thought to only occur in China or at the FIFA. The computers which were under surveillance are actually installed for use by patent attorneys when they are at the EPO in order to allow them to communicate with their clients for the purpose of exchanging documents. Members of the EPO’s Administrative Council might also use them when the Council is in session. During the period of surveillance such a meeting of the Council was scheduled. This means that both patent attorneys and delegates to the Administrative Council could have been affected by the surveillance. The EPO declined to answer questions as to whether this was an isolated case or whether more actions of this kind are currently in progress stating that any questions concerning this matter “refer to a procedure that is currently pending and subject to strict confidentiality”.

In the meantime it remains unclear whether or not the suspended EPO staff member was really guilty of defamation or whether he was merely stating the truth. His remarks reportedly referred to the EPO Vice-President, Željko Topić, and included allegations of corruption relating to his time at the Croatian Patent Office.

The EPO staff union SUEPO has now declared the peace talks with Battistelli to be suspended. For the next Council meeting on June 23, it has called for renewed protest and it has appealed to the Federal Minister of Justice, Heiko Maas, to tackle the matter. The Federal Ministry of Justice points to the EPO’s status of immunity. Whatever about that, the issue of internal data protection has now cropped up on the agenda.

This serves to confirm that anyone questioning the potency, qualifications or ethics of Željko Topić, despite corruption and court rulings that support allegations of corruption, is now being threatened. It’s an imposition of self censorship. This is very reminiscent of the way China deals with dissidents.

Update (15/6/2015): There is a similar article in another German paper and another translation, including additional text [PDF].

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