For the half-year to 31 December 2014, the IPKat's regular team is supplemented by contributions from guest bloggers Rebecca Gulbul, Lucas Michels and Marie-Andrée Weiss.

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Sunday, 27 July 2014

Eponia: a State of mind?

Practically independent already: the European
Patent Office -- or is it now Eponia? 
"Scottish independence: Europeans with an eye on Edinburgh" is the title of an informative piece for the BBC website by Esther Webber who asks:
"Voters will go to the polls in September to decide whether Scotland should become an independent country. But what other Europeans are pressing for independence and how closely are they watching Scotland?"
Esther then lists the eight: they are, in no particular order, Catalonia, the Basque country, Flanders, Padania, Veneto, Brittany, Corsica and Transylvania (or at any rate the Hungarian-speaking part of it).  This Kat has however spotted a ninth country which has pretty well established itself as an independent country within Europe: the Democratic Republic of Eponia.

Eponia is a small landlocked state mainly based in Munich, though it has established colonies in The Hague, Berlin, Vienna and Brussels.  Few people are born in Eponia (though it is rumoured that quite a few have been conceived there); most are settlers -- though they prefer to call themselves by a less provocative term, Examiners.

Patent income: a veritable cornucopia
One of the most buoyant economies in Europe, Eponia enjoys a unique and apparently inexhaustible source of income: patent tourism. Pilgrims come from far and wide to place their supplications before the local sages, or Boards of Appeal. Well-wishers also ply Eponia with money in order to obtain patents, cancel patents, amend patents or sometimes just to accelerate or retard the rate at which these much-desired services are delivered. Those whose petitions for a patent are successful often find that they are blessed with plenty, and that their influence extends from one end of Europe to the other. Some say that this good fortune can persist for getting on for 20 years, so long as occasional sacred donations, quaintly termed "renewal fees", are paid. What other country in Europe can offer such attractions?  The horseshoe, the four-leaf clover, the leprechaun pale into insignificance in comparison.

The European limit of the territorial reach of Eponia has been a matter of regret to its overlords, who have found the "EP"ness of its constitution something of a nuisance.  So they decided to simply ignore it, and venture forth into more distant territories, such as Tunisia which, last time Merpel checked, was not by any geographical or political criterion known to be part of Europe.

The national religion of Eponia is contained in a document known as the European Patent Convention, whose Articles (far more numerous than the Church of England's mere 39) are held to have been dictated directly into the ear of Blessed Bob van Benthem by a divine voice in the form of a holy hummingbird.  While of less mystical origin, the Rules are also greatly revered Like any sacred text, its superficial meaning is open to misinterpretation, and only specially trained priests are initiated into the deeper meaning of its rites and rituals (enigmatically referred to as "Guidelines"). When sufficiently inspired, those who are closest to achieving spiritual ecstasy can be seen and heard to be "talking in tongues", which embrace English, German and French -- but never Spanish or Italian.

"L'Etat, c'est moi!"
Many countries in Europe have a representative democracies which practise a strict division between church and state, and between the legislative, judicial and executive functions.  Eponia, however, practises a form of government which, economical in terms of labour, is highly efficient in terms of decision-making and in the enforcement of policy: some refer to it by the term that is derived from the Latin (dictatorship), while others prefer the Greek-originating version (tyranny). This should be no surprise to anyone who noticed the description of Eponia as a Democratic Republic.

The inhabitants of Eponia are restless, apart from the chosen few who enjoy the confidence of The Leader or upon whom he has cast a beneficent eye.  Spurning financial inducements, they crave the opportunity to pursue their avocation in peace and tranquility, to express their thoughts without fear of retribution and to, er, sign their own names when they post comments on popular intellectual property weblogs.

Inspired by the Rule of his namesake St Benedict, The Leader expects the Examiners to take vows of stability and obedience.  The vow of stability is enforced by paying them salaries higher than are available anywhere else, while the vow of obedience is enforced by the Guidelines for Investigation, which are wielded by the greatly feared Judges, who are, shall we say, Dredd-ful.  Their word is law and their word is final.  Cowering Examiners may not summon aid, nor keep silent to avoid self-incrimination.  Their cooperation is mandatory.  This however has not gone unnoticed by some of the territories in which Eponia metaphysically resides, and has dared to undertake legal, if not yet military, invasion into the sanctity of the Eponian premises.

To the public at large of Europe and further afield, the Democratic Republic, keen to attract its patent tourism Euros, issues glittering propaganda.  The most magisterially handsome, appealing to zealots and bibliophiles alike, is the Official Journal, that can be bound into volumes with pleasing ballistic properties.  For those who eschew such traditional means of communication, there is a handy newsletter thingamajig.  But these are mere fripperies compared with the Great Pilgrimage that is ordered every year to worship at the Shrine of Inventorship, where all the renewal fees of that year are spent on the European Inventor Award, thereby distributing to the few the offerings of the many.  By special Oecumenical Agreement, this is relayed to the world at large, at no little effort, by no less an organisation than CNN.

The theocracy of Eponia is not slow to learn from the religions of other territories, even those as far away as Japan.  Learning at one of the meetings of the Trilateral Offices that the Ise Shrine is rebuilt every 20 years according to Shinto precepts, The Leader resolved that whereas one patent life was sufficient for Japan, perhaps two might be suitable for the Netherlands, and so decreed the creation of a replacement building after 40 years.

There is another small troubling matter that irritates The Leader.  Unlike hereditary monarchs or papal clerics, his mandate does not last forever.  Fortunately, the college of overlords, cunningly picked from the very organisations that benefit from the overflowing bounty of the largesse of Eponia in the form of national renewal fees and direct assistance, are biddable.  The Eponians were delighted therefore to learn that the college of overlords happily extended the mandate of The Leader (well, perhaps not all of them) for a further four years.  All pilgrims were however perhaps surprised that the extension was approved without the details of the contract being finalised: these little details, such as presumably the pitiful associated emoluments, were left for subsequent private agreement between The Leader and the chief of the overlords.

And here we leave Eponia for the time being, to focus on the goings-on in other regimes but secure in the knowledge that readers of this weblog will continue to keep us informed of the happenings in this curious little fiefdom. Meanwhile, thanks to all of you who have kindly kept us informed of latest events there. There are too many of you for me to name here,and many of you must, on pain of losing your jobs, remain content for the time being with receiving just an anonymous Katpat.

16 comments:

Michael said...

Passport to Pimlico?

Anonymous said...

Bit vitriolic for a Monday morning, no?

Anonymous said...

All it needs is a national anthem. Perhaps a modified of Spike Milligan's proposal for Australia?

Eponia! Eponia!
We love you from the heart
The teeth, the tongue, the giblets
And every other part!

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I agree with your post, but I think it's important to let the EPO know how people feel about them. Relentless pressure does cause change, and from my dealings with the EPO over the years I realise it needs a lot of complaints and feedback before it takes action. It is best for that feedback to be objective and constructive.

Anonymous said...

Can truth be vitriolic?

Anonymous said...

Truth? The EPO is not a state, and therefore many of the factors associated with statehood simply do not apply.

Firstly, unlike a state, the EPO does not have citizens, whose properity and security it should protect and further. It has users, and it has staff. It exists to fulfill an internationally-agreed function, to serve the needs of the former by employing the latter. It has no obligation to advance or protect the interests of its staff, where this conflicts with or unnecessary to the execution of its function.

Further, no-one becomes an EPO staffmember, except by choice. Again, this is in contrast to states, whose populations generally do not elect to become members of the state, but are compelled to do so by accident of birth or history. Most citizens of one state do not have a free choice to remain members of that state or to become a member of another - acquiring citizenship of another state is generally a rare and special privilege. EPO staff are generally free to seek contracted employment elsewhere, or to pursue other interests. Hence, again, there is no reason for the EPO to have the same obligations to its staff as that of a state does towards its citizens.

There is no reason why EPO governance should be by the staff, for the staff, as republics are by the people, for the people. The governance is properly by the President and Administrative Committee on behalf of the National Governments in whose name the office was set up.

Do the EPO staff have a right to self-determination? No, because they are not citizens but contracted staff. Do the EPO staff have a right to consultation? Again, no, for the same reason.

In fact, the language of rights and the comparison with statehood is poorly drawn. No-one contests that there are management and governance problems at the EPO. But comparison with nation-states is unhelpful. Instead, the focus should be on whether the governance and management of the office is supporting or hindering its mission. Therfore, rather than looking to the special case of nation-states, perhaps comparisons should properly be drawn with large corporates, whose function is to generate secure profit for the shareholders, or with large charities, whose function is to achieve some stated purpose or mission. Neither of these structures require the other special attributes of statehood, but could provide good lessons for the EPO.

So Merpel, perhaps we would have another article, instead drawn up about the thinly veiled EPOCorp, and how the CEO is bamboozling the Board and the Shareholders, promoting his old schoolfriends to plum jobs, introducing unpopular working practices, cutting costs while paying for lavish accommodation, and facilities for the C-suite?

However, I fear that there would be less meat in such an article, since the average global employee sees far worse abuses of power and enjoys far worse corporate rights than EPO staff, all things considered.

Anonymous said...

Seems to me that a light-hearted piece is being taken much too seriously! Sure it has some pointed jabs, but then we all know about those things jabbed at.

Anonymous said...

Someone asks "Can truth be vitriolic?"

Given the, um, "redactions" of comments - truthful, albeit biting, that answer should be self-evident.

(or not - if in the Orwellian sense, truthiness has been corrected by the proper governmental office)

The irony of such a piece as this rather well-written one, so tongue in cheek about the rule of an organization, from a blog that (to this poster) employs much the same mindset is a bit acerbic.

Eponian settler said...

@Merpel: Excellent article.

@Anonymous 12:38:00:
Unfortunately, his Republican Highness is truly acting as an absolute ruler over the Democratic Republic of Eponia.
In the years to come, users of the EPO patent system will certainly notice the deterioration in quality of the services provided by frustrated Eponians.

Anonymous said...

@Eponian Settler. Reminds me of the time when North Korea joined the PCT (which it did long before South Korea). "Good," said the boss, "South Korea is in." "No, Boss, that's North Korea." "No, it isn't, see? 'Democratic People's Republic of Korea!'" "Boss, the ones that feel the need to put it in their names are the ones that aren't!"

Anonymous said...

"There is no reason why EPO governance should be by the staff, for the staff, as republics are by the people, for the people. The governance is properly by the President and Administrative Committee on behalf of the National Governments in whose name the office was set up."

Oh dear, some people have evidently never taken the trouble to study the magisterial pronouncements of Benedict the Magnificent (also known to his disloyal minions as "UBU-stelli" ...)

« Je n'ai jamais été aussi libre, insiste-t-il. Je n'ai pas de ministère de tutelle, de Parlement, de gouvernement. C'est nous qui fixons les règles, les discutons, les négocions. »

http://www.usinenouvelle.com/article/le-stratege-du-brevet-europeen.N182255

While we're on the subject, the EPO Service Regulations (adopted by the Administrative Council) establish a Staff Committee as a statutory consultative organ of the EPO. The intention of the "founding fathers" was that genuine "consultation" with staff was to take place as opposed to the kind of farcical "monologue disguised as dialogue" promoted by UBU-stelli and his minions.

Anonymous said...

I am the above Anonymous of 12:38. I didn't say that the President and the AC were doing a good job. The statement above shows exactly that they're not doing their jobs well, and hints as to why. The EPO is not an end in itself, it is merely a means to an end, and that end must always be kept in sight.

However, comparisons with nation-states muddy the waters and do not help see where the problems lie, or what the solutions might be. The management relationship with the employed staff is a problem to the extent that it affects the orderly and efficient working of the office, no further.

The real problems are the problems of the proper and fair functioning of the patents system, including the ever-increasing costs to applicants, the outsourcing of office functions to applicants under the guise of cost savings, where this externalisation of costs actually increases the overall cost of the system, and the arbitrary and poorly-considered legislating ex cathedra.

No doubt the factors giving rise to these factors also contribute to the problems with the employed staff. But the problems that matter to the success of the EPO in its mission are the problems of it performing its function well, not the problems of what rights and privileges the staff would or would not have if they were employed elsewhere. These are at best an ancillary factor in the real problem, yet seem to occupy a disproportionate amount of airtime.

Anonymous said...

Egalité,Liberté,Fraternité not part of the plot.
Patent state not the new Camelot.
Our rights watered down,climate of fear.
Now a high price to pay,eau dear!
If I was mayor I'd be full of regret.
And something is rotten in this Hamlet.

Anonymous said...

Fiefdom of UBU-stelli!
Realm of ENArchie!
How shall we extol him
Whom we serve humb-eleeee?
"Ultra" and ever and more "ultra"
Shall his "vires" be set!
The Admin Council that made him omnipotent,
Shall make him omnipotenter yet!

Anonymous said...

My word upon it, 'tis like "deja vu"!
Acrostic doggrelist I'm sure I know you ?
Shiver me timbers, I know that style,
Let me think for a short wee while ...
In my memory I need to have a quick hunt:
Neil I'd swear 'tis you, you mouldy old devil.

Anonymous said...

Monday 12:38:00,
The analogy might be a little far but I tend to agree with Merkel. Note that the EPO has barriers in its buildings and claims immunity from state interference - effectively that is a border and outside agencies (police, fire, ambulance etc.) cannot enter without invitation. Previous President Braendli used that when accused of assault and the EPO has recently sought immunity in both Dutch and German courts. Maybe you might ask about the status of the apartment on top of the Isar building? A mystery to all - has it been removed from the architects' site? And what does it give for the inhabitant(s)? Who knows??
The EPO has asserted its right not to be bound by international treaties since it is not a signatory and does not fall within national protection so, even in its own logic, it is a separate entity or state.
It has its own laws (based on the EPC) and has a GDP based on services and products. It earns money abroad by receiving a share of patent renewal fees - although that can also be seen as sharing income with foreign governments. It outsources health care and protection to foreign agencies and recruits staff from abroad who return to local countries after work (except for anyone using the mysterious apartment...).
I could go on but Merpel has said the best bits already!

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