A determined effort to oust European Patent Office (EPO) president Benoit Battistelli amounted to nothing this week, as representatives from European countries instead spent two days rehashing a reform proposal.
The meeting of the EPO's Administrative Council in Munich had threatened to become a showdown over Battistelli's increasingly autocratic behavior – a situation the EPO's staff encouraged by attempting to serve legal papers on the president and sending messages to council members asking them to fire him.
The council decided to effectively ignore ongoing disputes between staff and management however, punting the relevant agenda items to their next meeting in October.
Instead, the meeting focused on reform of the organization's Boards of Appeal (BOA), which had themselves proved controversial due to Battistelli's efforts to afford himself additional powers over what is supposed to be an independent body and process.
The council threw out the powergrab, approving a reform system that saw a new Boards of Appeal Committee set up as a subsidiary of the Administrative Council, and a newly created President of the BOA that will absorb some of the powers currently held by the EPO President.
The proposed Battistelli reforms had been heavily – and publicly – criticized by the Boards of Appeal official organization. That didn't prevent Battistelli from claiming the end result as a victory, however.
"The decision taken yesterday finally achieves a reform of the EPO's appeal system which was envisaged for many years," he was quoted as saying in an official release. "After two attempts of reform which failed in 1995 and 2004, this is a historic achievement."
EPO staff were notably frustrated by the failure to address their long-held concerns, particularly given that at the council's last meeting, the Council had issued a set of instructions to EPO management to fix the deteriorating situation and report back this month.
That does not mean that their concerns have gone unheard, however. The council acted against the president's proposals and, according to unofficial reports from the meeting, council members were pointedly critical of EPO management and even questioned the quality of EPO work – something that staff have been warning about.
With the Administrative Council the only body with the authority to reign in management and/or fire Battistelli, the fact it has again chosen to be silent on what is happening at the EPO rather than make a public statement has undermined staff's confidence that it can provide adequate oversight of the president's office.
Whether that is true, or if the council is working behind the scenes on a way to resolve the issues without a public blow-up, we will likely find out in October. ®