11.21.15

German Press Says Broken EPO Lets President Severely Punish Staff Not Even Guilty of Any Wrongdoing

Posted in Europe, Patents at 9:02 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Juve

Summary: Juve publishes an article which attempts to be ‘balanced’ (meaning it believes everything that EPO officials say) but at the same time reveals unacceptable practices that go in inside the EPO

SEVERAL recent German press articles (with translations) have been supplied to us and we wish to share these for readers’ information and for future reference. The previous such translation spoke about threats against individual lawyers and herein we present an article from Juve. It helps highlight yet another example where EPO management evidently overrides any legal safeguards for staff. It is almost as though the EPO is neither a part of Europe nor even a part of Earth (the planet). Staff is being subjected to institutional harassment despite doing nothing wrong (that can be properly proven). Here is the original in German and the English translation as follows, with additional remarks below:

European Patent Office: Three members of the staff representation suspended

The problems at the European Patent Office (EPO) show no sign of abating. The Office has now initiated disciplinary proceedings against three staff representatives, as an EPO spokesperson confirmed to JUVE. Among them is Elizabeth Hardon, Chairperson of the Staff Union SUEPO and a member of the Munich staff representation. The actions of the Office triggered spontaneous protests.

Labour law attorney Şenay Okyay who is familiar with the latest developments expressed a clear criticism of the measures: Past experience of such disciplinary proceedings has shown that even if the disciplinary committee concludes that Hardon is not guilty of any wrongdoing, the President of the EPO does not consider himself to be bound by such findings. He could still decide on a dismissal or another disciplinary sanction. Only then could Hardon attempt to assert her rights before the Administrative Tribunal of the I.L.O. However, it usually takes many years before that Tribunal delivers its judgments and nobody is responsible for enforcing their execution.

“Past experience of such disciplinary proceedings has shown that even if the disciplinary committee concludes that Hardon is not guilty of any wrongdoing, the President of the EPO does not consider himself to be bound by such findings.”The attorney also criticized the fact that the suspensions are intended to muzzle the heads of the staff union SUEPO. This was contradicted by an EPA spokesman who claimed that the measures were justified by the misconduct of the staff representatives. The Office accuses the Union inter alia of data protection violations and harassment of colleagues. This is apparent from a statement by the EPO to its Member States which JUVE has seen. In addition, the Office disputes the claim that it initiated investigations into employees because they were SUEPO members. These measures were taken solely in order to investigate potential breaches of regulations by individual staff members. For this reason the EPO was not prepared to accede to SUEPO demands to terminate the disciplinary proceedings before the start of negotiations [about union recognition].

The disciplinary proceedings and suspensions triggered a spontaneous demonstration by staff in front of the EPO headquarters as well as protests on the Internet. The focus of the criticism is the manner in which the procedure has been conducted, because the disciplinary proceedings against Hardon were preceded by investigations carried out by the EPO’s so-called Investigation Unit. Such investigations are controversial because, according to the internal guidelines, the accused person does not have a right to remain silent and is not allowed to be accompanied by a lawyer during their interrogation. In the pending disciplinary proceedings, the defendants are now supposed to make written submissions in response to the allegations. This will be followed by a hearing before an internal committee equally composed of members of the management and staff representatives. According to experts, a decision may already be expected before Christmas.

“As has become known, the highest chamber of the internal judicial organ rejected as inadmissible a request to dismiss the judge.”In addition to the disciplinary proceedings at the EPO, a further lively discussion is taking place because proceedings to remove a member of the Boards of Appeal from office are also pending. Critics complain that this could jeopardize the independence of the internal judicial organ of the EPA. As has become known, the highest chamber of the internal judicial organ rejected as inadmissible a request to dismiss the judge. This request had been submitted by the Chairman of the Administrative Council, Jesper Kongstad. The Board of Appeal noted, inter alia, that in the case of a removal from office they needed to be certain that unsubstantiated or unfounded, false allegations could not be used as a pretext to get rid of an “irksome judge”.

However, in mid-October the Administrative Council initiated proceedings for the removal from office. Now the matter is before the Enlarged Board of Appeal for a second time.

Nevertheless, an EPO spokesperson announced that the social dialogue was to be continued in parallel to the three suspensions that include a “house ban”. The EPO is aiming to conclude an agreement with the staff unions and to grant them a legal standing in the EPO regulations which they have hitherto lacked. (Christina Schulze)

Recently, Juve interviewed and extensively quoted a prominent retired judge regarding the suspension of the above judge — a subject that we covered here before, even days ago when an English translation became publicly available. The article from Christina Schulze says that I.U. “investigations are controversial because, according to the internal guidelines, the accused person does not have a right to remain silent and is not allowed to be accompanied by a lawyer during their interrogation.”

“As a practising European Patent Attorney I am deeply concerned by the news emerging from the EPO and thank you for your good work in exposing the outrageous conditions.”
      –Anonymous European Patent Attorney
But actually, even worse things are happening, as we covered in our recent series [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7]. Then there is the rogue bunch of activities introduced by CRG, as covered in the articles below. Schulze speaks of “protests on the Internet.” Maybe she should speak to some people who write about this subject online ahead of publication of her next article. She can also speak to some angry patent lawyers, under the privilege/promise of anonymity. It is evident that even ‘clients’ (applicants) of the EPO are visibly upset. One person wrote this just before the weekend: “As a former patent attorney who once had a lot of respect for the EPO, this is pretty appalling.”

Remember that there is nowhere else for lawyers to turn to. The EPO has a monopoly in Europe, so poor service from the EPO harms everybody. It’s as if the EPO is “too big to fail”.

Earlier today a European lawyer told us: “As a practising European Patent Attorney I am deeply concerned by the news emerging from the EPO and thank you for your good work in exposing the outrageous conditions.”

There is a lot more to this story than the EPO's PR 'firewall' cares to admit. If journalists like Schulze require more information on the subject, we will be happy to assist; we feel obliged to help.

This clearly isn’t a case of angry peasants with pitchforks going after rich ‘successful’ guys but a case of abusive under-qualified old buddies from France regrouping and ganging up against doctors and professors who decided to become patent examiners.

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