The European Patent Office (EPO) is seeking new powers that it would allow it to search the bags and electronic devices of its staff and office visitors.
Under proposed rule changes put forward by the organization's administration, security staff would be entitled to seize and search bags, phones and laptops at any of the EPO's locations. The changes would also prohibit the creation or dissemination of posters and flyers without explicit management permission.
To justify the extraordinary measures, the organization's security head argued that the EPO's protocols were not up to similar levels as "similar" international organizations such as the United Nations and Interpol.
It didn't take long for EPO staff to slam the comparison between an office that reviews patent applications and one that deals with issues of national and international security. As far as anyone is aware none of Microsoft's patents have ever come in a folder marked "Top Secret".
In a memo sent to workers at the EPO's Hague office, the staff committee noted that "in the 40 years’ history of the Office, there has not been any real threat. One wonders if new and very intrusive rules are necessary in the first place."
The real reason for the draconian powers is, of course, the ever-growing paranoia of EPO president Benoit Battistelli as he continues a determined effort to pass unpopular reforms and crush critics of his new policies.
Staff have already been banned from discussing ongoing internal problems at the organization and a confidential employee review showed many feared for their jobs if they speak out against the reforms.
Battistelli has pursued union leaders at the EPO who opposed his reforms, creating a special investigative unit that repeatedly broke the laws of the countries in which the EPO operates but over which the EPO claims immunity as an international organization. The disciplinary proceedings against those officials have been repeatedly criticized by politicians, staff unions and the International Labor Organization.
The Hague internal memo notes: "It was the Office's choice to suppress any consultation and discussion in the EPO community, thereby preventing any exchange of views and information amongst professionals. It is the President's obsession to see an enemy in almost every staff member who might think critically over certain policies, and it is his political choice to manage by fear and intimidation the Office."
While Battistelli continues to promote the changes he has made as making the EPO more efficient both in terms of number and quality of patents, his administration has suppressed data that paints a different picture.
A new quality measurement process is widely mocked internally for producing unrealistic and unprecedented levels of satisfaction and has led many to compare it to the election results of dictators who decide what level of success indicates overwhelming support but not so much that it looks fixed (Battistelli comes somewhere between Hosni Mubarak's 88.6 percent of the vote in 2005 and Bashar al-Assad's 97.62 percent in 2007).
Figures on the number of staff that have retired or left early from the EPO and the number of applicants for jobs at the EPO have also shown that years of internal strife at the organization have had a severe knock-on effect.
Despite the president's best efforts however, news about the dire situation at the EPO continues to leak, prompting ever-more aggressive responses from his management team.
Last year, Battistelli received a zero per cent confidence rating from EPO staff. The brakes on his bicycle were also cut while it was stored in the EPO's underground car park. ®