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Friday, 11 September 2015

EPO the focus of Dutch newspaper article following suicide

Dutch daily newspaper de Volkskrant carried a story yesterday which will sadden and dishearten readers of this blog. For the fifth time in recent years, Anneke Stoffelen reports, an employee at the European Patent Office (EPO) has ended his or her own life.
Merpel wishes to convey the sympathies of the entire IPKat blog team to the family, friends and colleagues of this person.
Merpel's objective is not to report here the ins and outs of the argument between the staff union SUEPO and EPO President Benoît Battistelli arising from this tragedy. An automated translation is here if you wish to read the newspaper’s account of the differing views.
Nobody knows what factors may have been at work before any individual suicide. However, when questions are raised as to whether a workplace may have been a factor, there must be a moral obligation on those entrusted with running the organisation to satisfy themselves -- and their employees -- that the organisation is doing everything it can to prevent further tragedies. Permitting an independent investigation into working conditions and the morale of employees is the necessary first step in that process.
Merpel urges the Administrative Council (AC) to act, and to act quickly. Discussions about whether the Office has immunity from employment law or is exempt from the prevailing standards of employee care throughout the EU are not only immaterial, they are repugnant in the present circumstances. Each AC delegate should take individual responsibility to ensure that the next time such a personal tragedy occurs, nobody thinks it newsworthy and nobody links it to the EPO as a place of employment.

Given the subject-matter of this post, please exercise restraint if you are going to comment, and think twice before saying anything that may be hurtful or inflammatory to ANYBODY. Merpel will be moderating comments on this subject very heavily, whether they are made in response to this post or any other. Should she feel that any comment is inappropriate or distasteful for any reason, it will be removed without debate. This applies particularly to any comment purporting to ascribe personal blame for this tragedy.


Old sad Man said...

It is always a sad occurrence when a member of staff at the EPO ends his life. The only aspect which has transpired is that the family wanted discretion about the whole matter.
I am not sure that SUEPO did the right thing, making the matter public, but the reply of the President is shameful as well. Even if the death cannot be linked directly linked with the working conditions, claiming that everything is honky dory is a blatant lie. That he respects the dignity of staff is just laughable.
The so-called "social dialogue" encouraged by the AC has, as could be foreseen, not brought the smallest change in the overall situation. it was just a fig leave trying to appease worries which were coming from the AC.

Lenny said...

I in no way wish to diminish the suffering of anyone involved in this but five suicides in three years in a population of seven thousand equates to a rate of 24 per 100 thousand per year. In comparison, for example, the rate for UK men aged 45 to 59 was 25 per 100 thousand in 2013: For other middle-aged populations the figures are be similar with the rate for men usually being higher than women. I have also seen figures suggesting that people living outside the land of their birth are at greater risk of suicide.

Again, I am not trying to wave away the tragedies that took place but we should be very careful before we start to read greater meaning into what might be, very sadly, not atypical numbers given the makeup of employees.

Anonymous said...

"don't-want-to go-back-chez-…." Says:

When they were to be EPO executives we would find ourselves with the EPO slogan “When you truly love something, you protect it in the best way.”

Sadly, it is too late to protect our five colleagues. It’s now left to their colleagues to ponder what happened and how to avert another untimely death.

Poniako said...

To Old sad Man,

The widow and the children have no access to the national social security. They are totally dependent of the EPO for the payment of the allowances: widow´s pension, family allowance, school allowance, social security, etc.
I know the widow of one of the EPO suicided colleague. She really wanted an independent investigation. Then the EPO informed her that such request of investigation is inappropriate. Such behavior will postpone the payment of all the allowances. (+/- 4 years of procedure for the internal appeal, then +/- 4 additional years for the appeal at the ILOAT).
The direct consequence: the widow and her children would be left without money and without social security for 8 years.
This wife was desperate by the dead of her husband. She couldn´t face additional money problems and she had to cooperate with the EPO.
The EPO president was pleased to announce that the family wanted discretion and asked to respect what is a very private matter.

Anonymous said...

Statistician says:

I believe that what is striking here is the INCREASE of the suicide rate at the EPO, which were 3 (three in total !) in the more than 30 years between 1977 and 2009.
This means that the suicide rate changed in 2010 from 1 every 10 years to 1 every year.
So, the question is: what happened at the EPO in 2010 ?

Sad EPO staff said...

EPO top management is locked in denial

The same day of Battistelli's appalling letter to SUEPO TH (28.8), the new DirCom in MUC sent an email to EPO top management asking them to find volunteers (!) to be interviewed to report positively in view of drafting ....a bilan of Battistelli's five years of reforms ... (interestingly, VP1 wants to select these "volunteers" prior to send them to the DirCom for 45 min interview, take a picture etc...).

Parallel to this in the background retaliation by PD43 and Battistelli goes on full speed. They now target union officials / staff reps:

within few days after the letter of SUEPO TH to Battistelli (letter which was not public back then) the chairwoman of SUEPO Munich - who has already been downgraded upon Battistelli's decision despite a unanimous positive opinion of the disciplinary committee in her favor - was invited by the investigation unit for a fabricated case against her. Further she is threatened by PD43 since SUEPO informed epo staff of the shameless witch-hunt organised against her. Other union officials were also threathened...

Since few months (new trend) very high pressure is put on severely sick staff for forcing them to come back at their desk... the work atmosphere at european patent office is simply getting worse by the day (there was a pause during the summer since Battistelli had ordered all his top management to be on holidays when he was).

Nothing is done to lower the work pressure on the contrary + nothing is done to stop the brutal management methods on the contrary = further suicides among the weakest staff are likely to soon occur at the European Patent Office.

Many thanks to Merpel for this very balanced but necessary report as indeed it cannot continue like this.

Superann said...

The point is surely that such tragedies demand a proper investigation. Precisely because of its claim to blanket immunity, the EPO is in loco the state for many aspects of its employees' lives. In the outside world a suicide IS investigated by a coroner's court in the UK (I am not sure about what happens in continental law), and such investigations sometimes lead to recommendations for prevention. On a large scale the epidemiology of suicide is studied by governments as a basis for preventive policies. The exclusion of suicides by EPO employees from any such investigation is completely unacceptable.

Tired epo staff said...

THANKS MERPEL for your very good post.

This is much appreciated since MANY colleagues suffer currently from their working conditions at EPO and the weakest and most fragile ones are vry much exposed to the current working conditions under Battistelli's regime

macavity said...

Mr Battistelli lashes at both the staff representation and SUEPO for not respecting the family's wishes to downplay this most unfortunate incident.
Were both staff representation and SUEPO informed by administration that such was the wish (before they went public)? Most probably not, as Mr Battistelli's administration does not speak to staff representation and SUEPO.
Then again, we have only Mr. Battistelli's affirmation that such was the wish. That's hearsay....
I tend to believe Poniako that some subtle pressure might have been exerted on all the families concerned.

Disgusted said...

Way to go Merpel. Piggy back yours and everyone others anti-EPO views on the back of a horrific tragedy affecting an individual, his family and friends, without any legitimate basis for doing so.

These repeated references to suicides to 'support the cause' are sick.

union official said...

@ disgusted

interesting statement you issue that sounds very much like EPO top management story-telling... or are you from control risks ?

I am a SUEPO official.

I have information related to each five cases. Based on the element we gathered I have reasons to consider that for each of the five case, a link to EPO working conditions exist.

Why do you think that principal director HR refuses the national labour inspection to find out ?

We are all taking risks to defend violated rights and management by terror.
This is precisely with positions like yours that further cases will occur.

what happens at EPO since the past three years amounts to purposeful Darwinism: the strongest survive, the weakest, the most vulnerable one, are broken by the system.

Your post is a disgrace in particular for the families of those who took their lifes.

Anonymous said...

An Undertaker says…


So you're the head brother in charge now, huh? And did I just hear you say by the snap of your fingers you will tell us what a legitimate basis is? Well I tell you what. Why don't you snap your fingers at the AC right now and let's see what happens before it gets worse!

ov chipkaart said...

I believe that what is striking here is the INCREASE of the suicide rate at the EPO, which were 3 (three in total !) in the more than 30 years between 1977 and 2009.

That number is wide off the mark.
I don't know the right number, but I do know that there were a significant number of suicides in The Hague in the 90s, admittedly also a time of increased social tension within the EPO.

Anonymous said...

I find it both morally and factually wrong to focus all criticisms on Mr Battistelli. The regime of fear prevalent at the EPO could not have been installed without the support of the Vice-Presidents nor of the managers responding to them. Should the brutal methods of the Investigation Unit sometime be recognized as constitutive of harassment against employees, they will all together have to stand for their responsibility. In the meantime they will have to bear their staff's look. Hope they sleep well. Many staff members do not.

restinpeace said...

Examiners' profile has been clear throughout the years: nerds with language skills, no managerial aptitude and attitude. It is clear they suffer under the circumstances: management cannot care less unless political pressure comes from the outside. Pressure on examiners in unbearable, help us.

Anonymous said...


Ongoing downwards debilitation of staff due to poor staff reporting standards, wrong coaching methods and most of all the dogmatic management line “…in the interest of the organisation” drives us insane.

Old man of EPO said...

Thank you for the temperate and tempering comments. Other blogs are perhaps less clearly thoughtful in their balance and, even as a Suepo member, I am not always 100% behind some of their actions, although I understand their extreme difficulties and courage on my behalf.

At a time of high emotion - both above and below the individual surfaces - we are indeed well advised to be careful. If, as is suggested above, some colleagues are being chosen to support the mgt. line, then we should bear in mind that those who speak may do so from a true belief or from a forced or self-serving belief. It is not for us to attribute which of these motives to others willy-nilly since, as we must be only too aware, the motivations of others may hide darker issues. To comment unwisely may not cause direct harm but may contribute unwisely and unhelpfully.

I did not know the 5 colleagues personally and have no background info concerning the events. But I do fear that there may be others with similar problems. Attacking others, yes, even top management, personally may be an act of frustration (and one which I understand and sympathise with) but I worry about who might be next.

Again Merpel, thanks for your approach and I hope it is followed by all contributors here btl.

Anonymous said...

“EPO alarm bells”, and Edgar quotes…

Oh, the bells, bells, bells!
What a tale of terror, now, their turbulence tells!
How they clang, and clash, and roar!
What a horror they outpour
On the bosom of the palpitating air!
Yet the ear it fully knows,
By the twanging,
And the clanging,
How the danger ebbs and flows:
In the startled ear of night
How they scream out their fright!
Too much horrified to speak,
Yet the ear distinctly tells,
In the jangling,
And the wrangling,
How the danger sinks and swells,
By the sinking or the swelling in the anger of the bells-
In the clamor and the clangor of the bells!

Anonymous said...

To Poniako:

Honestly, this typical for the EPO under Batistelli! Because even in case of an investigation, there is no legal basis for stopping the payments to which the widow is entitled! Whatever the outcome of any investigation, the payments must be made. So to tell the poor widow that payment would be stopped during investigation amounts to a very dirty threat, perfectly reflelecting the current working climate at the EPO.


Old sad Man said...

When will something happen in order for the President and all his minions to be removed from Office?
In spite of what might have been a mishap for SUEPO, the President's way of governing the Office makes it more and more looking like a banana's republic. But here the bananas are not for foreigners, they are for the happy few.
The more things one hears about the EPO, the worse it gets. If you are not along the official line, you are just put in cupboard or transferred and given a menial job.
Even if it stops, the damage done will stay for a long time.
The comparison made on another blog between FIFA and EPO becomes more blatant every day.

Anonymous said...

Kilkenny Design Shop would say….

It seems that the EPO hallmark fingerprint has turned so dark that it even leaves fingerprints on coal, typical for being under the thumb of an alien abusive management style.

Uwe said...

For those who understand Dutch, here an interview of Pr Liesbeth Zegveld this week on Radio Een (legal counsel of SUEPO)

incazzato said...

The question that makes me so sad is: who will be next?

Anonymous said...


Instead of counting suicides (muddy waters indeed) you should tell your readers about the EPO now having "preferred customers" enjoying special treatment. We live in amazing times.

Cheers, Pedro

Uncontrolled risks said...

The 28.08 - the very same day Battistelli was sending his shameful letter to SUEPO having enquired about the 5th suicide - the newly hired DirCom addressed the EPO top management in and email in view of finalising asap a document about "Mr Battistelli five years' bilan".

The aim of this new propaganda masterpiece is to story-telling the world about how great the reforms are (besides of course lightening a convenient smokescreen after the latest drama).

The DirCom seeks volunteers to be interviewed during 45 min each (with their colour picture taken for print purposes) to give laudative testimonies.

Funny thought : VP1 wants to first select the "volunteers" before they are sent to DirCom ...

The gerontocracy currently governing the EPO continues to dig totally disconnected from the world they live in. During this time the production pressure, the denial of sickness, the retaliation continue.

The only valid question is not if new suicides will occur but when (not to forget : the real (high) risk of a desperate employee returning the violence against others before returning it against him/her...)

Coward said...

Why Mr. Battistelli does not allow an external labour inspection? What is he scared of? Is there something to hide?

Iso9001 said...

Quality is EPO refrain ... 80% invalid patents granted. Merci Monsieur le President

Old sad man said...

We are slowly deriving from the sad news to working conditions, which certainly play a role.
What is interesting is the study quoted by Iso9001.
That a great number of patents are invalidated in part or in totality is that there is new prior art, but for which public prior use does not play a big role.
The question is thus, why was this further prior art not revealed during the EPO search? This is the question to be answered!
May be EPO could look in this matter, as it has the means and the manpower to do so, albeit some examiners might not produce while doing such a survey.
Such a study was made many years ago, but never published. As the EPO claims it is the best search authority in the world, it should not be frightened to publish such results.
If the new prior art should have been found during the EPO search, than the quality of search has gone down, and this well before the recent increase in production/productivity, which will only make things worse.
If the prior art could not have been found, then the EPO will be able to sustain its claim that it is the best search authority in the world. I have however strong doubts about this. Let's say it is the less worse search authority, no more. When oral instructions are given that a search should not last less than n hours, n being a rather low integer, no wonder about the result.
There is no blame to put on examiners, especially in view of the increasing production pressure. There is a ratchet mechanism as the production reached in one year is the basis for improvement for the next year.
All the waffling about "Early Certainty by Search" promoted by VP1 is no more than a desperate attempt to blur the figures. When production/productivity increases by an average of 20% even the most solid and conscientious examiner will give up in the end.
The lead time for bad search/examination is such that people like the President or VP1 will be enjoying a good pension, but those left will have to deal with the mess those "top managers" have left. That is what is disgusting as well.
As an example, the Apple "swish to open" patent has been invalidated, although better prior art, was available in form of the Neonode Swedish smartphone which was on the market well before Apple filed.

Garfield said...

The study cited by Iso9001 is itself invalid. The sample is self-selecting. It only looked at patents which have been attacked in court. People only attack a patent if they have evidence to invalidate it.

So in 80% of cases where an attacker had evidence, the court agreed with that evidence.

Only a small proportion of patents are attacked. This study says nothing about the validity of the majority of EP patents.

Anonymous said...

A surfer in the VP1 wash says…

The building site for the New Main building in The Hague and located on the premises is subject to Dutch labour inspection, what if a desperate EPO employee’s life ends there? In the case of an EPO expat what is the role of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the host country as regards a forensic investigation and keeping statistics? The EPO seems to have no problems to respect national laws and bye laws when it comes to obtain a planning permission, building user permit and adhere to building regulations. The property owner bears full responsibility for the running of a safe and healthy occupied building and also due to the fact that the EPO has no fire brigade and has to rely on local services. It is said that the EPO’s immunity is mainly limited to its core activities, was that also not the outcome of an earlier court case in The Hague or EPO v. Restour as regards the interpretation of the self-made EPO procurement guidelines in relation to EU tender law? The fact of the EPO not allowing a national labour inspectorate on the EPO premises can be challenged in national courts as soon as it can be disconnected from the EPO core business activities. The latter made the court case EPO versus SUEPO successful and the intervention by the Dutch government to overrule the court decision very questionable. The VP1 also site manager in The Hague knows very well what crucial mistakes he is making when using his lobbying power and connections at any cost thereby ignoring basic facts that this is about Human Rights and not only securing a perverse salary and pension. These days national and international law is so interwoven that a national court is more than competent enough to handle a court case with an international organisation within its jurisdiction.

Anonymous said...

A surfer in the VP5 wash says…

@ A surfer in the VP1 wash

The same goes for the VP5 in Munich who also struck a deal with the ILO in favour of the EPO Administration and he knows also very well what crucial mistakes he is making when using his lobbying power and connections at any cost thereby ignoring basic facts that this is about Human Rights and not only securing a perverse salary and pension.

iso9001 said...

Dear Garfield,
thanks for your opinion. My opinion is that in case a patent needs to be attacked in 80% of the cases you are successfull.

Garfield said...

Dear Iso9001

My experience is that if I don't have evidence of invalidity, then usually I don't attack a patent. I would only lose.

Instead, I try to solve the problem another way. For example, negotiating a settlement. Or designing around the patent. Or just not using the invention, because I assess that the patent is valid.

So in these circumstances, I look for a solution where I do not "need" to attack the patent.

If you just look at cases where someone does actually attack a patent, this does not give you a statistically accurate picture. Valid patents are less likely to be attacked.

Anonymous said...

already commenter here

UK Attorney said...

Such sad one-sided reporting and commentating. This blog has sunk to a new low by its show of disrespect to the deceased and his/her family.

THE US anon said...

UK Attorney,

I must concur.

Out of respect for those so sadly affected by the purposeful forfeiture of life (and thereby, hope), I do not comment on the situation itself.

Suffice to say though, when the directive is given that tight controls as to "who is to blame" are laid out, but are not followed when the clear implicit "blame" game is played against the office (true, or not), this becomes yet another "do as I say, not as I do" moment for this blog.

And to do so with such a somber item, well, that rather speaks for itself.

Prayers for those touched by this ultimately sad event.

Old man of EPO said...

UK attorney,
Sorry you find the column so disrespectful but I would defend the general tone. There is no wish to cause problems but, in the outside world, the relevant authorities would and should carry out appropriate checks. An investigation within a workplace would not seem unreasonable and could be tactfully performed. I'm not sure that a private company could block authorities in such a situation where there are a series of deaths. This wouldn't be a witch-hunt but could and probably would reassure others and perhaps prevent future problems.
It may be worth noting that the EPO does feel able to interfere unilaterally in the health care of its staff. All staff must be present at home every day for any medical examination by office appointed doctors. Refusing entry to your home is not allowed and absence is only allowed with prior office approval. Whether this is oppressive or acceptable is not the question - I merely point out that the office involves itself closely in one's private life and to then prevent anyone else from investigating a death seems unusual. The office appears to have assumed a position beyond its competencies.

Old man of EPO said...

Regarding the 5-year 'bilan' referred to above, could I suggest that since the president disbanded the former staff committees, organised his own new elections under his own rules and decided who could and couldn't stand, in order to achieve a truly representative staff committee, then there is an obvious group of people who could speak for the staff?

To do otherwise would appear to suggest that his reform has failed. Or that he would rather not listen to the staff's elected representatives.


Topika said...

Dear UK Attorney,
The pretext “respect to the deceased and his family” is usually invoked by an employer to avoid an independent investigation.
When the conditions of work are very toxic, it is very important for the employer that nobody speaks with the families. Harassment, violation of human rights, lack of justice, etc. must be kept hidden behind closed doors… and not investigated by an independent authority.

Meldrew said...

"80% invalid" is a good headline, 79% looks so much less alarming than a nice round number.

maxdrei said...

I don't know which disappoints me more, the ones who are,in pursuit of their agenda, careless of the feelings of others, or the ones who, in pursuit of their agenda, run around accusing everybody else of hurting the feelings of the family members

Meldrew said...

80% is more alarming than 79%. The power of round numbers.

Aggregating totally invalid with partially invalid (whether this is relevant to infringement or not) makes the story more thrilling.

Opposition outcomes which, on the same basis, show "only" 70% invalidity may reflect the lower cost of opposition than invalidation encouraging weaker attacks to be made, but still showing a high proportion.

The existence of an opposition procedure shows a recognition of human frailty missing from some comments.

When the person skilled in the art knows more than any one person, examination cannot be expected to be perfect, until all (invention, patent drafting, and examination) is handed over to artificial intelligence working on the same data or will it?

In short, only the inhuman expect examiners to be perfect.

UK Attorney said...

Speaking as someone who has been 'very close' to people severely depressed and taken to the brink of suicide, I have to say that once a suicide occurs it would be, at best, guesswork for any person to explain the rationale behind their actions. Some people may have first-hand knowledge of the deceased's state-of-mind and there may be a note left 'attempting' to explain the action taken.

What would never be the case is an ability for unconnected third parties, such as those on this blog (myself included) to be able to second guess the outcome of an inquest and to lay blame at anyone's door.

Those who comment that I sound like an employer are very much mistaken. I cannot speak for the views of those directly affected by this all-to-common tragedy, but I would hate to see such speculation at a time when I was suffering and searching for answers - truthful answers.

Raslebol said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
old man of epo said...

UK attorney,
Sorry. I see your point but i don't think people were suggesting that an inquest be held just to blame anyone (although the coroner should have the right to make any recommendation based on what he is able to find - i trust he is not obstructed in so doing but suspect he is not allowed to investigate within the EPO). The labour bodies should however be allowed to carru out separate checks for practices which are generally considered to be unacceptable. That the EP does not allow this is regrettable.

UK Attorney said...

Old Man of EPO:

The purpose of Merpel's posting was to stir the anti-EPO ire that is fervent among some readers of this blog (everyone has a right to their view). My point is that making use of this tragedy is an unacceptable political tactic, because it is not possible to lay blame at the door of the EPO at this time. Should an inquest consider there to be culpability on behalf of the EPO (or any employer in other cases) then there would be questions to answer.

Concerned citizen said...

Given how much time and emotional energy many employees invest in their work, it appears to me that it is common sense that it is possible that an employee's (perception of their) working conditions could have a bearing upon their mental psychological state. The trouble is that, for any individual case, it can be almost impossible to pin down the (probably many and varied) causes of increased suicidal ideation.

Bearing this in mind, it is certainly unhelpful (and, ultimately, futile) to speculate upon whether working conditions were a contributing factor in any individual case.

However, that is not to say that there is nothing that can be done if there is a genuine concern about a possible link.

For example, the EPO could examine the numbers (and characteristics) of cases of suicide amongst their employees over the years, and identify whether there are any trends that give rise to a cause for concern.

A key question might be whether the overall rate amongst EPO employees is comparable to that for individuals of equivalent socioeconomic status (and nationality) in the general population in the country (or countries) in which the relevant EPO offices are located.

Another important question could be whether there are any particular roles that can be identified as being "at risk". That is, even if the overall figures were broadly comparable to the (equivalent) general population, there could still be cause for concern if a disproportionate number of cases are linked to a particular category of employee.

I would have thought that, given the number of recent cases, any organisation having a genuine concern for the welfare of its employees would be carefully checking points such as these. Perhaps the EPO is doing this right now - but will we ever know? And would anyone outside of the EPO management and the AC ever trust an unsupported assertion that there is no cause for concern?

At least from my perspective, it is the potentially tricky situation that the EPO management finds itself on this latter point that perhaps best highlights why something fundamental has to change in employee relations at the EPO - and soon.

Garfield said...

New post by Joff Wild (IAM magazine).

"The EPO staff union is doing its members no favours and is letting the office's management off the hook"

Joff acknowledges there are problems at the EPO, but criticises SUEPO's "incendiary" language and their tactics.

"Instead, of feeling compelled to listen to the SUEPO case and to engage with its representatives, the extremity of the union’s language and the wild, unsubstantiated nature of its claims give Battistelli and his team, as well as the Administrative Council, a get out of jail free card. "These people are unreasonable, they hurl around unsubstantiated allegations and they represent a minority opinion," is the general management argument. As the first two points seem to be pretty inarguable, outsiders conclude, maybe the third one is too.

"From where I sit, it looks to be time for a SUEPO rethink. Moderate the language, drop the aggression, focus on evidence not anecdote, demonstrate a desire to be constructive. Most of all, please leave fragile, heartbroken families to their grief. That way you can start to do better by your members and the wider EPO community."

SUEPO member said...

This is amazing that some believe management word is truth whereas union word is a lie.

SUEPO has gathered information upon each of the five cases which are referred to in their letter to the AC delegations.

Guys you may wish to (as IAM blog does very well btw) supports current EPO management... altough I am not aware that Joff Wild took the precaution to speak to SUEPO officials which deontologically is simply disqualifying him to comment as he does.

FACTS are FACTS : 5 suicides occured within 39 months for which SUEPO considers indepedent investigations should be convened asap.

Several letters have been sent to no avail (btw if SUEPO was defaming the EPO don't you believe that Battistelli would have loved to sue them to prove he was right ???).

The national labour inspection is kept away from the EPO based on deliberately misleading interpretations by some EPO top managers.

Other drama will follow

Just an Anon said...

SUEPO believes the EPO must be responsible for staff suicides because of the numbers? Does SUEOPO believe EPO staff are not, or should not be, susceptible to the same problems as other members of the human race?

No suicide should be treated as a statistic, but the sad fact is suicides happen and the EPO will always get its share. Statistics, however, may show a trend that enables targeted action. In fact, the statistics on suicide make for interesting, disturbing, reading. They demonstrate that certain groups within society have an illness that would be better catered for, it it were to occur to the same extend in other groups.

My sympathies go out to the family and friends of the deceased individual, who unfortunately was unable to seek/obtain the assistance necessary to help him to overcome his problems.

Anonymous said...

Behind the Wall quotes…

“One mile farther and I come to another grave beside the road, nameless like the other, marked only with the dull blue-black stones of the badlands. I do not pause this time. The more often you stop the more difficult it is to continue. Stop too long and they cover you with rocks.”

A different UK attorney said...

SUEPO member: "This is amazing that some believe management word is truth whereas union word is a lie."

Neither Joff Wild (IAM blog) nor anybody here has suggested either of those things.

SUEPO member: "Guys you may wish to (as IAM blog does very well btw) supports current EPO management"

IAM blog: "There is also widespread concern at what is perceived as a tendency to impose rules without discussion and a failure to communicate; [...] What's more, this blog has written several times about the transparency-deficit at the EPO and why tackling that has to be a priority. In short, we know that there are issues and problems, and that senior managers must take their share of the blame."

Doesn't sound like support for the management to me.

SUEPO member: "Several letters have been sent to no avail (btw if SUEPO was defaming the EPO don't you believe that Battistelli would have loved to sue them to prove he was right ???)."

Joff Wild quoted an excerpt from one of these letters. He doesn't suggest it was defamatory. Rather, he criticises it for being "incendiary". His argument is that this makes people stop listening and switch off. It's not a good way to get the message across.

That's why he says it does SUEPO members no favours and lets the management off the hook. He recommends that if SUEPO dropped the aggression, then it would be harder to ignore them and they would be more effective for their members.

Anonymous said...

"YouknowwhatImean" says:
The call of Merpel to the AC delegates to take individual responsibility in the evaluation of the present, very tense situation within the EPO is highly appreciated.
Readers of these blogs should also remember that the "core" problem of the situation is the introduction of many ill-conceived and ill-implemented reforms (career system, investigation guidelines, code of conduct, organisational changes etc.). No one disputes the need for reforms and modernization, but those already implemented so far by the present management (with the complicity of the AC) have only created a climate of dismay, confusion and depression in a population of employees that in the years have contributed to the success of the EPO. One further reform is now pending: the boards of appeal, whose judicial independence is under serious attack. The EPO has conducted a "user survey" in order to justify its going ahead with what is already pre-cooked. The Association of the Members of the Boards of Appeal (AMBA) is promoting a more complete survey in its web site ( which should provide more interesting results and a more objective starting point for a reform, if needed. All those interested in the well-functioning of the EPO (lawyers, patent attorneys, judges, users etc) should take the time to consult the site and, hopefully, fill in the questionnaire. Only a massive participation will ensure a good outcome and, possibly, the change of a "bad" pending project of reform into a good one or at least the maintenance of the "status quo" which has sofar safeguarded the outstanding authority of the EPO on important legal issues related to patenting. Trust an independent observer.

tired EPO staff said...

A different UK attorney said...

set yourself in the shoes of those who repeatedly underline identied risks and are ignored, those who consistently warn of the risks and are attacked ....

imagine when they become aware of the newest drama of a colleague which committed suicide...

How would you feel after number FIVE ?

This is not fair to blame the union which has no decision power in front of a top management which publically is reported to have violated fundamental rights many times, which threathens, investigates, suspends

I would not like to be one of the SUEPO committe member at this moment since they too suffer a lot ....

Mork said...

To those who criticise SUEPO for their actions in the context of this post, I would ask: What would you have done differently?

I was a staff rep in the 1990s when a colleague committed suicide. It was well known that the guy had been having problems at work. As a staff rep, what can you do? It would be totally irresponsible to ignore the situation and behave as if the work situation had nothing to do with the mental state of the person concerned.

Fortunately for me, the employer saw it the same way, and was extremely co-operative and very keen to make sure everything had been done to help the person once it was known he was going through a difficult period.

But, how would I have acted if the employer had not been as fair and reasonable as he was, and had denied any link whatever between the victims mental state and his work environment? I am glad that I didn't have to answer that question.

Anonymous said...

Uk attorney, The point is not the outcome of an investigation so as to blame the EPO.The point is that an investigation is being blocked by THE EPO management. An investigation which, upon normal, "national" circumstances, would take place. I think an investigation is justified in view iPod the alarming increase of the suicide rate in the last few years.

Sad person.

Old sad Man said...

Just a figure: the actual production is 10 000 (ten thousand) units above the planned production. And this has to be assessed in view of an overall increase of 20% of the production as planned with respect of last year.
Where is the problem? The President is thereby comforted in its view that EPO examiners were a lazy bunch who deserved a kick....
In spite of all what SUEPO has been voicing, the figures are in favour of the EPO management. Has SUEPO ever thought of this?
I however disagree with Joff Wild when he considers that quality is not going down. While a decrease in quality is not yet discernible, it will come out, but much later. The latency time is relatively long, but when you see that production figures are even higher than expected, then you wonder how this result can be achieved. Certainly not in maintaining quality. I do not think that a high production is necessarily synonym with bad quality, but the sheer production figure must be alarming for the future.

Cynic said...

Not sure what the 'European project' is in this context and surprised that the EPO decides it is part of the local community (although being immune from its rules?). Will the EPO house refugees in its spare offices? Strange.

PS Cynical me says it's easy to be philanthropic with other people's money??

Anonymous said...

EPO Midweek turmoil quotes …

I have always loved the EPO. One sits down on in an office over his files, sees nothing and hears nothing. Yet through the silence something throbs, and gleams...

Today BB addresses the AC with a paper on the 5 tragic cases and the HR Roadmap.

...on the file a little post-it that reads: “I don’t want you to save me. I want you to stand by my side as I safe myself”

Anonymous said...

PR-Performance-Booster to Cynic

100.000 EUR ... hmm ... looks as if they reduced the number of future director posts by one for that. Honestly, 10.000 products above target (see "Old sad Man" above) ... if BB and the VP's would donate their bonuses this year, that would save many more souls, really be news and good PR for this office for a change.

Anonymous said...


Don't you see? This is a coup. I am sure that the scapegoat is already chosen and may even have been hired to be the scapegoat: You-know-who.

After the pension reform and all the 'dirty work' doen as instructed by the memberstates, the memberstates will lift the immunity of You-know-who and be very officially very shocked about being misinformed all the time in the AC and about the way things were handled. You-know-who will have severe memory gaps and, oh, relevant evidence cannot be found - professionally erased by the men skilled in risk control.

You-know-who save, memberstates save.

Enters the new President of the EPO elected from the members of the AC. Money rolls up, shit rolls down. Coup done. Over and out. And the world shouts FIFA, FIFA, ... and watches the games anyway.

Anonymous said...

Old sad Man, have you ever considered where those numbers come from? I heard an insider once say that he did not trust any number that he got from the EPO. Transparency? hahaaaaaaaa!!!!!
As to quality: Quality is way down in the form of unmotivated decisions, extremely short communications with standard phrases, in fact no clear reasons for the applicant why and how to change his application so as to get a patent. Not that it matters much. He'll get his patent anyway because a second communication costs too much time. That kind of thing is not measurable and as long as the applicants and opponent accept it, nothing will happen. The result is ever more completely unclear patents the fate of which is uncertain in cue of serious litigation. In opposition the same happens as in examination: the examiners have too much pressure to "produce", so produce they will, at the cost of quality. True, there are still some exceptions, but they are threatened with dismissal for bad work, so they will disappear. At the end you'll habe a huge pile of absolutely worthless patents. The presumption of validity is no longer valid.
I can appreciate if one wants a different system, but that should be clear said and not maintain that a proper examination is carried out where it isn't. The present situation amounts to promising the applicants an examination that in fact they do not get. But pay for. Transparency? hahaaaaaa!!!!


Anonymous said...

Refugee on the Wiesn in Munich says...

@ Cynic and PR Performance-Booster

Yep, the EPO sponsored a -Zelt auf dem Wiesn- for the refugees with free non-alcoholic beer!... guess what, it works, this year they expect 6 Million refugees on the Beer festival! Talking about a PR Performance-Booster by the EPO, really inventive...

Cynic said...

The farce continues. While Suepo is not allowed to comment on their own investigation by the EPO and are threatened it seems for referring to them or to other web-sites discussing them, more comments get made e.g. No doubt will be pressed to stop referring to that too. All a it like plugging the many holes in the dyke. In the 'real world' which EPO management lauds as a wake-up to staff, this wouldn't be allowed to continue without some form of mgt sacrifice. Will be interesting to see if that happens. And, if so, who. Even if mgt considers itself totally right, failure to successfully implement a policy is failure nevertheless.

Anonymous said...

'As to quality: Quality is way down in the form of unmotivated decisions, extremely short communications with standard phrases, in fact no clear reasons for the applicant why and how to change his application so as to get a patent.'

This certainly reflects my experience of recent communications from the EPO, especially the bit about standard phrases with no clear reasons. I think the only change I would make is to delete the word clear.

Anonymous said...

I cannot comment on the individual human tragedies, all I can say is that I'm very sorry for the persons, their families, friends and colleagues.

On the other hand, we should see it in a broader context:

For the non respect of local and internal law, I saw many examples in the areas of recruitment, procurement, treatment of staff reps, treatment of sick staff, separation of powers, contractual conditions of temporary staff, spying on employees and so on. Usually managers tell you openly, that they know that their decisions and actions are unlawful under national law, but nobody will sue the EPO, and their actions please the President. Even if somebody sues the EPO, it will take years.

I foresee that in just 5 years from now, the EPO will have severe backlog problems and difficulties to recruit examiners. Reasons are:

1. Management is currently studying how to lower the pensions. If this applies for acquired pension rights many examiners will leave the EPO at once. In fact I know several that already left in fear of such changes.

2. In addition, the new salary scale leads to significantly lower salaries (-30%) for newly hired staff. Pension risks are shifted to the staff, pension contributions are rising, health care contributions of gainfully employed spouses were introduced and so on. So the financial package worsened significantly.

3. The dramatic loss of reputation of the EPO will not be helpful. Intimidation of staff and unions, despotism, non respect of work ethics and basic law principles, no career perspectives, a President that needs security body guards when he gives a speech and so on - who wants to work in such an environment?

4. On the other hand, international engineers with degrees from the best universities and language skills are desperately needed from the private sector, see the demographic trends. High potentials will no more consider the EPO as a good and safe employer.

The remaining examiners will be at the same time stressed by the workload, alienated from the Organisation and their work and demotivated by their job. In addition new staff will feel treated unfairly compared to old staff.

I cannot say that the 5 individual cases have anything to do with the EPO's current situation. However I feel it is fair to say that the atmosphere under Mr. Battistelli worsened much, and that fear, pressure, unfairness and a loss of motivation indeed have an impact on likelihoods, in the same way that air pollution has an impact on health. We all need some fresh air.

Anonymous said...

Nos agimur tumidis velis says ….

Yesterday I leaned back in my chair and looked out above the IP landscape. Suddenly I saw through half-shut eyelids a dark EPO silhouette wheeling high up in heaven, and presently it passed again, but lower and nearer, its orbit narrowing, I understood then that I was under inspection. I lay very-still and heard the flight- feathers whistle above me and make their circle and come nearer. I could see its eyes between the great wings bear downward staring. I said, 'My dear silhouette, we are wasting time here. These fine bones are still in proper working order; they are not for you.' But how beautiful it looked, gliding down on those great sails; how beautiful it looked, veering away in the light over the IP precipice. I tell you solemnly that I was sorry to have disappointed it. To be become part of this dark silhouette, to share those wings and those eyes-- What a sublime end for somebodies moral, what an enskyment; what an experience must it be after joining it!

Anonymous said...

And still nothing in the Presidents blog??

Mind you, a few weeks ago we learned "EPO at the forefront of renewable energy technology". Un peu de self-aggrandisement, as we disons.

Anonymous said...

Onewhoknows informs:

Mr Battistelli now wants to sack the present VP 3, introduce "his" reform of the Boards of Appeal and install there his choice of new VP3. The new chapter in the EPO saga: "Taming the boards"
The present VP3, Mr Van der Eijk, is on unlimited sick leave and thus out of function. Will his nerves hold? Probably not, otherwise a golden hankshake is not excluded.

Doctor Who ? said...

"The present VP3, Mr Van der Eijk, is on unlimited sick leave and thus out of function."

Sounds like a bloody malingerer to me. He should be immediately summoned to a medical examination by one of the President's doctors. And of course subject to strict "house arrest" ...

Anonymous said...

Onewhoknows replies:
The President has an interest in keeping VP3 at home as at work he does only damages, i.e. he's unable to control the chairs and the members who are too independent and do not obey orders.

Cynic said...

Doctor Who?,
What makes you think the Dutch VP based in Munich isn't confined to his home unless the P allows him to leave it (during core hours)? To be consistent, the rules would have to be applied to him as well so that travel to, for example, Niederlande would be subject to EPO approval.
Good luck to him anyway. Health is more important than point scoring.

Anonymous said...

Onewhoknows comments:
VP3 has always been a silent subordinate of the President and never had the guts to show disagreement with the mad line imposed upon the staff. Now, under house arrest, he has the time to meditate and understand the true nature if the President. Too late for coming out!

Proof of the pudding said...

Now that the EPO's staff regulations have been published (, we can all study them and consider how happy we would be to have those determine our working conditions.

Personally, I would not be happy with them at all. They look way too top-down and authoritarian in their general style and approach. This is all the more worrying when you remember that the protections provided for employees under national law do not apply, and the EPO seems to be able to take the role of the final arbiter for pretty all disputes / disagreements.

I wonder how well the regulations will go down with potential employees? Probably not as well as the conditions of the President's own contract, the specimen version of which seems to contain some nice perks (e.g. for pension rights and claiming expenses).

However, what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, as they say. Thus, if BB is confident that the regulations are perfectly reasonable and do not breach human rights, then he would surely best prove his point if he published an amended version of his own contract in which he agrees to be bound (where possible) by precisely the same regulations as the rest of the staff. However, I suspect that we are more likely to see flocks of flying pigs before that particular day dawns.

Anonymous said...

The British Delegation have strict instructions to avoid any pig issues.On more important matters,should Britain leave the EU contingency plans have been made to congregate at Dunkirk.We reckon we can hold out for 48 hrs.Any IP owners of yachts or pedalos are requested to do your bit.A bacon sandwich and a warm beer would be nice too.

Anonymous said...

Why are the president conditions published ?

why are the bonusses of the vice-presidents published ?

Anonymous said...


reading the intro letter ...

I wonder, what would be the use for a job applicant? The ServRegs changed drastically the last few years. The conditions you have this year will probably change next year. Early Uncertainty from the Start (EUftS).

"The Service Regulations also attest to the principle of strict legality of all processes within the EPO."

Makes sense. Within the EPO its all perfectly legal.

"[...] they may differ from corresponding national provisions in those member states where the Office maintains places of employment."

Oh, oh... Here we go again ...

.. but a salvatory clause (as opposed to in the seat agreement): "Despite all the care we have taken in producing and updating this document, the occasional error may have escaped our attention."

Dr. Who ? said...

"What makes you think the Dutch VP based in Munich isn't confined to his home unless the P allows him to leave it (during core hours)? To be consistent, the rules would have to be applied to him as well so that travel to, for example, Niederlande would be subject to EPO approval.

VP3 has been appointed by the Administrative Council under Article 11 EPC and thus subject to the disciplinary authority of the Council - not that of the President.
It is not clear whether the President can actually impose "house arrest" on him.

Apart from that he can only be removed from office as the Chairman of the Enlarged Board of Appeal on a proposal of the Enlarged Board of Appeal (Article 23(1) EPC).

Potential recruit said...

I'm contemplating to join the EPO. For me it makes sense to see these service regulations on the web.

Is there anything else I should know, but is not written down in the service regulations?


Old man of EPO said...

Potential recruit,
The service regulations were given to me as being part of my contract of employment. They have, however, been unilaterally changed by the administrative council without either consultation or agreement on my side and certainly without thought to compensation for any loss. An example would be pension contributions. Originally there was ( and still is) a 2:1 office:employee ratio but with a 8% ceiling for staff contributions. That was simply changed by 'legal' decision by the AC and gradually staff contributions have risen to 9.7%. The actual amount may seem generous to some but the principle of the Service Regulations being a binding contract between employer and employee is gone. The regs can be and are changed unilaterally and there is no legal remedy. The AC are allowed to change them so tribunals such as the ILO will find nothing wrong.

Anonymous said...

Proof of the pudding,
Alison Brimelow, in response to some unfair comments, did publish her salary and benefits (at least internally) to quash the more extreme rumours. I can't remember the details but I seem to remember thinking that she was getting no more than her fair share (maybe even slightly less than I would have though). She had nothing to hide. However...

Anonymous said...

Onewhoknows replies to Potential recruit:

In the Service Regulations you do not find that:
A) the atmosphere at the EPO is poisoned at all levels;
B) human rights are not respected;
C) you'll be squeezed like a lemon;
D) the present President and his croonies have no respect for the staff;
E) nepotism is a rule (what can you expect from a French President?)
F) not all that shines is gold.
G) the good old days of ideals are over.
My advice : Look preferably for another job elsewhere

Hart aber Gerecht said...

Potential recruit:

You can find out all you need to know about the (current) EPO here.

Onewhoknows is giving you sound advice ...

Anonymous said...

Esprit de service says...

@Potential recruit

It also depends what position you envisage, President, VP, PD, Director, these are not permanent jobs anymore and limited to 5 year,... these positions appeal very much to grey squirrels.
Furthermore Administrators, etc have a more permanent character and ... these are mainly elegant hardworking red squirrels.
In the future however the EPO may recruit some ferrets as well, deal with the current grey squirrel plague.

Immunity is the last refuge of a scoundrel said...

@Potential Recruit,

did you read the title and content of Merkel's post, above?

There have been five suicides recently at the European Patent Office. Five.

Go somewhere else.

Cynic said...

As cynical as I am , Immunity's last statement implies an unproven link and is overly emotional. Each case is personal and I don't think we should or can be as definite as that. Out of respect I would refrain from commenting on the tragic cases.
Potential recruits should be aware of staff concerns and the generally highly charged atmosphere. But there is a limit.

Anonymous said...

@ potential recruit :

you MUST visit so that you grasp the current motivational environment

Anonymous said...

Who says that VP3 has not been ordered on sick leave and so effectively banned from the EPO? Not that it hatters: after all, everything the president does that goes against the EPC, is approved by the council, see the "house ban case".


Anonymous said...


the question was :
Who says that VP3 has not been ordered on sick leave and so effectively banned from the EPO?

I guess BB and VP1 would vigorously deny such a defamatory suspiction.

Since their character is above any doubt , everybody would agree ?

5th column

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