King Battistelli tries again to break Euro Patent Office union

Yet more rewriting of rules, as majority of patent attorneys say it's time to resign


The president of the European Patent Office has embarked on yet another effort to undermine his organization's staff union.

In confidential documents seen by The Register, the president's team has drafted changes to the organization's articles that would effectively give him veto power over the election of union representatives, as well as limit what those representatives could do.

Among the changes proposed:

  • The current union leaders – who Battistelli has fired or placed on leave despite a formal rebuke from the European Patent Office's (EPO's) Administrative Council – would be unable to stand for re-election.
  • The union would lose its right to choose two of the five members of the EPO's "supervisory committee," with those members chosen instead by an ill-defined process that EPO management is likely to dominate.
  • The supervisory committee would be granted new powers, including the ability to "take any measures as it sees fit, including to strike out from the election any list or candidate in case of evidence or attempts of fragmenting the electoral body, or of unduly influencing in any way the result of the election."
  • Only the chair of the Central Staff Committee would be excused from official duties – previously all members of the committees were excused.
  • Union meetings would be limited to a certain number per year and will not be allowed to grow beyond a certain size.

Taken together, the changes are a transparent attempt to give the president yet more power over the organization's independent bodies. Previously, Battistelli has awarded himself greater powers over the EPO's Appeals Committee as well as the Board of Appeals. Both bodies had challenged the president's decision to place on leave union leaders who resisted his reform efforts.

Battistelli's efforts come following the failure of a legal challenge from the EPO's staff union (SUEPO) to force the organization to follow recognized European laws when it comes to disciplinary cases.

The EPO's approach has repeatedly fallen short of the laws of the countries in which it operates, but the management team has claimed immunity from those laws due to its international status. SUEPO challenged that claim in Dutch court, but earlier this month lost at the Netherlands Supreme Court after the Dutch government felt obliged to defend the larger precedent of international organizations operating within Europe.

Price to pay

Although Battistelli's stubborn persistence and gradual rewriting of rules to grant himself increasing power over the organization appears to be working, it is coming at a high cost.

In December, a Parliamentarian told the French National Assembly that his fellow countryman was "a disgrace to France." In response, the French trade minister made it clear he did not support Battistelli and noted that his actions had been "the subject of convictions by the courts of the Netherlands, by the ILO [International Labour Organization] bodies and the Board of Directors of the agency."

The EPO staff union has appealed no fewer than three times to its Administrative Council to fire Battistelli. And other international staff unions, including from the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), have been fierce in their criticism. Media outlets across Europe and ranging from mainstream to patent-industry-specific publications have been increasingly vocal about the failure of the EPO's management team to handle the crisis.

But perhaps most damagingly, the EPO's customers have started taking note. In a recent survey carried out by news service Juve, over 170 heads of patent departments at large corporations and industrial groups in Germany – who represent the bulk of the EPO's applicants and hence customers – gave a damning assessment of the EPO and its current president.

As with an internal survey last year, the independent external survey of EPO clients gave Battistelli a zero per cent confidence rating.

His "reform" of the Boards of Appeals has also been noted for what it was – an effort to grant himself greater power – with fewer than a third of those surveyed saying they believed it would lead to greater independence, and with more than 80 per cent of them making it clear that they wanted to see a fully independent board.

Worse, the EPO's customers are seeing a fall in the quality of patent applications: less than half are happy with the current process, which has been at the center of Battistelli's reform efforts. As president, he has tried to push through more patents at a faster rate and at lower cost – something that EPO staffers say has contributed to an impossible work atmosphere.

But most telling was the fact that Juve asked in its survey whether Battistelli should resign. More than half of respondents said yes, he should. ®

Similar topics


Other stories you might like

  • Robotics and 5G to spur growth of SoC industry – report
    Big OEMs hogging production and COVID causing supply issues

    The system-on-chip (SoC) side of the semiconductor industry is poised for growth between now and 2026, when it's predicted to be worth $6.85 billion, according to an analyst's report. 

    Chances are good that there's an SoC-powered device within arm's reach of you: the tiny integrated circuits contain everything needed for a basic computer, leading to their proliferation in mobile, IoT and smart devices. 

    The report predicting the growth comes from advisory biz Technavio, which looked at a long list of companies in the SoC market. Vendors it analyzed include Apple, Broadcom, Intel, Nvidia, TSMC, Toshiba, and more. The company predicts that much of the growth between now and 2026 will stem primarily from robotics and 5G. 

    Continue reading
  • Deepfake attacks can easily trick live facial recognition systems online
    Plus: Next PyTorch release will support Apple GPUs so devs can train neural networks on their own laptops

    In brief Miscreants can easily steal someone else's identity by tricking live facial recognition software using deepfakes, according to a new report.

    Sensity AI, a startup focused on tackling identity fraud, carried out a series of pretend attacks. Engineers scanned the image of someone from an ID card, and mapped their likeness onto another person's face. Sensity then tested whether they could breach live facial recognition systems by tricking them into believing the pretend attacker is a real user.

    So-called "liveness tests" try to authenticate identities in real-time, relying on images or video streams from cameras like face recognition used to unlock mobile phones, for example. Nine out of ten vendors failed Sensity's live deepfake attacks.

    Continue reading
  • Lonestar plans to put datacenters in the Moon's lava tubes
    How? Founder tells The Register 'Robots… lots of robots'

    Imagine a future where racks of computer servers hum quietly in darkness below the surface of the Moon.

    Here is where some of the most important data is stored, to be left untouched for as long as can be. The idea sounds like something from science-fiction, but one startup that recently emerged from stealth is trying to turn it into a reality. Lonestar Data Holdings has a unique mission unlike any other cloud provider: to build datacenters on the Moon backing up the world's data.

    "It's inconceivable to me that we are keeping our most precious assets, our knowledge and our data, on Earth, where we're setting off bombs and burning things," Christopher Stott, founder and CEO of Lonestar, told The Register. "We need to put our assets in place off our planet, where we can keep it safe."

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022