From October 2016 to March 2017 the team is joined by Guest Kats Rosie Burbidge and Eibhlin Vardy, and by InternKats Verónica Rodríguez Arguijo, Tian Lu and Hayleigh Bosher.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Council of Europe focuses on Eponia, and there's more to come

Pierre Yves le Borgn' [the apostrophe is not a typo -- it belongs to his name], a French Representative in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, has initiated a Declaration concerning recent developments in Eponia that has been signed by 82 MPs/senators, including four or the five main political group leaders. The Declaration reads as follows:

On 17 February 2015, the Hague Court of Appeal condemned the European Patent Office (EPO) [noted on this blog here], arguing that its internal dispute settlement system led to a rollback of fundamental rights enshrined in the European Convention of Human Rights and the European Social Charter. The Court considered that the EPO could not invoke its immunity when a trade union is deprived of any means to challenge violations of the personnel's rights, for want of any legal remedy before the International Labour Organisation Administrative Tribunal or via any other internal procedure.

An international organisation cannot become a place of lesser law, sheltered by its jurisdictional immunity. Restraining the right of association, reducing the right to go on strike, preventing the personnel from being entitled to collective bargaining, depriving all organisations from any effective remedy and failing to carry out a court decision are all unacceptable developments. We call on the 38 member States of the EPO, all members of the Council of Europe, to bring this situation to an end and urge the EPO's management to comply with the decision of the Hague Court of Appeal [which it refused to do so, here].
You can see the original Declaration document, together with the names of all 82 signatories, here. Pierre Yves has also posed a question to the Ministers' Committee today in Strasbourg, which you can view on YouTube here.

This moggy applauds this French parliamentarian, together with another French MP, Philip Cordery, for delivering a public statement, endorsed by other MPs, Senators and Members of the European Parliament, which deplores the chaos at the EPO over the past three years [a surprise for this moggy, who until today did not realise that the Huffington Post had a French edition].

But that's not all: Miguel Viegas, a Portuguese MEP, has asked the EU Commission the following written question:
The European Patent Office (EPO) was set up forty years ago. It currently employs about seven thousand highly qualified people, most of whom work at its offices in Germany (Munich) and the Netherlands (Ryswick). In 2014 alone, it received 274 000 patent applications from companies all over the world. Its budget of EUR 2 000 million makes it the second largest European institution after the Commission.

There have been a huge number of complaints about the EPO. Cases of staff suffering from depression (including four suicides since 2012), a climate of intimidation caused by the creation of an internal investigation unit, and restrictions on the right to strike have been reported by the trade union, SUEPO, which is now banned from EPO premises. Among other things, the union is complaining about management’s plan to lower the cost of registering patents at the price of employees' health.

Is the Commission aware of this situation and what is being done to investigate it? Also, what are the grounds for the immunity granted to the European Patent Office, which allegedly derives from the fact that it is extraterritorial, thus making it impossible for any legal action to be taken to protect workers' rights?
Altogether more than 100 parliamentarians from 32 countries have now expressed their anxieties and concerns regarding the persistent erosion of fundamental rights experienced by EPO staff over the past year and a half at the hands of the current regime, which presumably still enjoys the substantial support of the Administrative Council which has notional control of the organisation.  

This moggy notes that there are still plenty of parliamentarians at national and local level who are not yet concerned about the continuing and unabated deterioration of the situation.  If your elected representatives are in that category, do take this opportunity to educate them as to what is happening. There is no soil in Europe that is so infertile as to be barren of inventive talent and innovative enterprise, and the protection of a great deal of human creativity depends on the efficiency and well-being of the European Patent Office


Anonymous said...

During this time in a Galaxy far away ....

The Administrative Council just extended for 3 years VP5 (Raimund Lutz) the man who finds everything perfectly legal (when national courts and parliamentaries don't)...


VP1 (who will be 70 at the end of his mandate whereas max. pension age at EPO is 67....


Battistelli starts his new mandate with secret salarial conditions ...


the AC did not bother to comment on the on-going spying on staff reps/unionists nor on public spying

All is fine in Eponia !!

Anonymous said...

Many years ago I gave a promise to the Office, and with it to the general public of Europe, that I would examine patents and only grant those with a high probability of validity as far as I could establish. In return for this the office made a promise to look after me. We had an agreement, which I considered to be binding. I have kept my promise so far and I intend to keep my promise. Unfortunately this is not made easier by the fact the some people in the Office have decided to withdraw the promise made by the office to me by changing the whole substance of my working conditions without my agreement. If I am to keep my promise, this must be tolerated, however, since there is no functioning legal system which will tell them to stop, so I have no defence. None the less, I intend to keep my promise, since I believe, and all the evidence I've seen confirms, that valid patents are important for the general public and the whole patent system.
It would be really nice if someone could persuade the office to revert to keeping it's promise. I do hope these initiatives are a step along the way.

Anonymous said...

Dear anonymous@16:48:00

The office didn't respect its commitments to you ? It takes you exactly one written letter to walk off and do something else in life. Statistically, you must have between 30-40 years left to do something more meaningful in your life than examining patents.
Believe me, handing in that letter to your director feels quite good and liberating...


Anonymous said...

Quitting the EPO may certainly be an option for some individuals. However, it does not really solve the problem of the abuse of Human Rights, for example, in an analogous manner to that when leaving nazi controlled country did not solve the problem, although some did leave in time, line Einstein, just to name a prominent example. The problem was only solved when forces from outside and within coordinated a joined effort. If you just leave the EPO and move on to somewhere else, how do you know that it is not going to happen again somewhere else where you go?


Anonymous said...

Part 1
For many years I felt safe in the conviction that what Anonymous @ 16:48 said was the state of affairs: on behalf of the EPC member states the EPO had undertaken to check that the social contract between the inventor and his company and society was fulfilled. Only those inventions that contributed to a technical development that would be an advantage for society in the long run would be permitted to have a preventive effect on other members of society for a time-limited period.

No doubt that is what made the EPO the gold standard for patent examination that was exported to many developing patent administrations, as it is so admirably described in the book by Peter Drahos: “The Global Governance of Knowledge: Patent Offices and their Clients”, Cambridge 2010. By means of administration rather than political international cooperation a trust in the EPO has been built up internationally in regions very far from the Europe that is primarily served by the EPO. This means that examination results from the EPO are taken as the criterion of patentability in these remote countries.

He also argues convincingly that the greatest influence on the major patent offices of the World (EPO, USPTO, SIPO) has come from the transnational corporations that “game” the system in order to obtain more and more patents relating to smaller and smaller inventive steps. It appears that to these huge corporations the important thing is to have a registered right that enables them to take purported infringers to court. The threat of a court case is the weapon here. The “gaming” approach to patenting does not require a high standard of examination; on the contrary, it is actually against the interests of the transnational corporations.

I do see patterns emerge that support this analysis. First of all, the fall in quality of the examination at EPO. There has been no protest from the big users of the EPC, which are undoubtedly the transnational corporations. This sadly speaks against the hopes of Anonymous of 16:48.

Secondly, the internal policies (bringing in mercenaries, etc.) that make working life at the EPO difficult: those with the greatest resources will remove themselves from this regime, which will make it easier to retain the reduced quality. Again, no protests from big users.

Thirdly, the introduction of the Unitary Patent and the Unified Patent Court. If we have given the Unitary Patents low quality, there are many more superficially relevant patents to base a threat of court action on, and there are enormous savings of not having to do this in several jurisdictions. Here, great encouragement from the big users.

Anonymous said...

Part 2
Fourthly, if some individual EU countries were to realise that the patents that come out of the EPO are of too low quality to really support the prices of e.g. pharmaceuticals, then they may be tempted to pass legislation that limits prices in particular ways. With TTIP it will be impossible to have a local political debate and a political decision on whether this unreasonably reduces the profits of the companies involved, because all decisions on such matters will be made by a tribunal, which may impose confidentiality on the proceedings. There are indications that the timing of the agreement on the premature UP and UPC was decided by the TTIP negotiations.

Seen from big industry, the present management of the EPO including the AC must be the ideal way to prepare for its long-time goals. Erode the quality; in far away countries the EPO is still considered the gold standard. There is one fall guy, but when he finally falls, the damage has already been done and cannot be reversed. I expect that before he falls, the opposition and appeal fees in the EPO will be set much higher than today, because this is the Achilles heel of the reduction in quality. It also requires the Boards of Appeal to perform worse, and the EPO management is working on it.

The AC is completely ungovernable and willingly plays along with the “gaming” of the EPO. The transnational corporations cannot be shamed into changing their game. Why should they? We cannot even tax them. The only hope is to establish in the public mind the link between mediocre patents and the prices of pharmaceuticals. Prices that will make people die because the public health services cannot afford them. That may wake up the politicians beyond lobbying.

George Brock-Nannestad

Anonymous said...

Dear Ipkat, dear Merpel, thank you so much for your coverage regarding the situation at the EPO. You are providing a great service here, not only to the public, but also to the employees at the EPO.
As one of the latter I can tell you that in "dark moments", like those usually experienced after each administrative council, and therefore as this one right now, your voice out there helps me recover and gather energy to continue acting as anonymous at 16:48, despite of the lack of recognition, the offense, the exaustion ....and the sadness ....for the loss of what exactly I do not know yet....(the EPO that I knew?, believes regarding Europe, our politicians, or even human nature I no longer have?, my dignity?, all of that together?....).

Anyway thanks again, your blog really helps each of us see that we are not "crazy" and that such a "toxic form of management" is simply unacceptable/unlawfull/unhealthy. You posts, and the comments to them, are frequently cited when trying to cheer up a colleague, when trying to argue that there are still reasons to keep our hopes for a change alive....that we are not alone....

Thanks, it is scary to have witnessed how quickly things went completely out of track over here and how much everyone's principles got shaken... And, as Barbi very well noticed, several of us feel a bit trapped in the idea that simply leaving might not be such a good thing for oneself, as that would imply giving up on a lot more than just a job...what exactly I once again do not know.....

Thank for making clear, also to us, that it is not asking too much to ask to be treated with respect for our fundamental rights!
Please don't stop!

Yours, yet another anonymous

balthazar said...

No one man can terrorize a whole organisation unless we are all his accomplices.
I am sure you all can find ways to produce a little more at the ezpense of your colleagues.
Just make sure that spinelessness is your core competency.

16:48 said...

Thanks George for a good summary, all the evidence I've seen supports your view exactly. One little point, however, is that it's not confined to Pharmaceuticals. I'm seeing more and more blatant examples in Mechanics too, usually aimed at relatively specialised products produced by SME's unlikely to have the means to afford adequate patent advice. While this may not have such dramatic results as with medicines, I suspect those employed by the companies that go under will not feel well when their livings are in question. Never mind, as the former examiner says, they can always get out and go somewhere else and they they'll feel better, won't they?

Depressed said...

Thank you so much IPKat for following up the events at the EPO. Press coverage has become the only way to cure depression among EPO staff.

I did think about doing something stupid against me recently...

Anonymous said...

For a summary of the situation in the EPO see
the publication of 28/06 at

interested square

Fafnir said...

"All is fine in Eponia ..."
Well, perhaps not as 'fine' as the members of the AC would like to think.
First of all, Merpel's post appeared after the AC meeting finished. So most if not all AC members may have not have known about these developments.
Secondly, the post clearly suggests that there storm clouds may be gathering. Individual AC members should perhaps start comtemplating leaving the ship before the storm hits. Otherwise they might go down with it. For AC members beginning to have second thoughts there is probably no point discussing the issue with other AC members because, you might be just spied on by the Administration. And not knowing how long BB will be able to cling to power, most if not all AC members will for some time yet publicly state their undying loyalty to BB! !

Quousque tandem said...

To Depressed 23:57
Do something clever for you: take a break, ask your partner to confiscate your computer after 20:00 on working days and go on holidays without it. None of these bl...y bas...ds deserves the slightest stupid thing you could do against you. The only ones you woulld hurt is yourself and your family. Take your dough and shut up for a while, the game is not yet over and we'll need all manpower.
To Merpel
In the name of EPO employees and their partners, kids, parents... thanks for your open tribune and your reactivity.

Anonymous said...

Recent news on the EPO homepage:
"The Council was also informed of the state of play regarding the disciplinary procedure against a Staff member appointed by the Council. The opinion and recommendation of the Disciplinary Council have been transferred to the Enlarged Board of Appeal in accordance with Article 23 EPC, and the Council will come back to the case for a final decision as soon as possible."

Interested square

Anonymous said...

Memorandum of Understanding quotes…

CoE: “How did it get so late so soon? The systematic dismantling of EPO staff rights, much like the takedown of collective bargaining, has been taking place in the AC’s full view.”

BB: “Listen to me, my idea of a MoU is working, and it's going to continue to work. It's not over. A lot's going to happen this summer. And even after the summer, there's more to come with my MoU.”

TU: “The only sound approach to collective bargaining is to work out an agreement that clarifies the rights and responsibilities of the parties, establishes principles and operates to the advantage of all concerned.”

ZT: “Hmm.. is it going to be a collective bargaining were the TU’s or SR too often tries to gain an advantage - a bargain, like buying something in a store for less than it is worth. Don't spend time beating on a wall, hoping to transform it into a door.”

AC: “Unfortunately, the clock is ticking, the hours are going by. The past increases, the future recedes. Possibilities decreasing, regrets mounting.”

CoE: “It is the time that has been wasted for the EPO staff rights that makes their rights so important to us.”

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