Here comes the king
In response to the criticism, Battistelli came out swinging. He pushed the EPO's annual Quality Report and argued that "quality is the first priority of the Office."
He went to suggest there was a split between the examiners doing the work and their union representatives: "Unfortunately, I regularly hear untruths about the quality offered by the Office. In particular, this comes from the side of the personnel representation. Those who represent the staff dispute the quality of the products. This is normally never the case that one contests the quality of the work of his/her colleagues."
But after years of complaints about how Battistelli has handled staff complaints and union officials, and with the announcement of his successor at the same meeting, several governments expressed their dissatisfaction.
The German government representative welcomed the quality report but then noted that the EPO was effectively grading itself.
"We must distinguish between process quality and product quality. The process quality can be certified. Product quality is discussed at meetings and it is unclear how it can be assessed," he noted.
Aside from the German government being a very powerful voice within the EPO given Germany's position as the largest patent holder in Europe, the EPO's new chair is German government representative Christoph Ernst.
"We also need support processes, employee involvement," the German government spokesperson continued. "For this I read nothing in the report. They have a very high quota compared to previous years. Sometimes it is said that this is an indicator of less good quality. At a 70 per cent grant rate, we are concerned about product quality. The number of rejections has declined massively. This raises doubts. The examiners are well trained, but they also need time. The intrinsic motivation of the colleagues must be maintained."
Which may read like mild criticism but in the painfully polite world of international organizations, is equivalent to yelled abuse.
Concerns about EPO quality don't just rest with the staff or governments either. Recently the EPO's customers – European corporations – have started raising doubts about patent quality.
With Battistelli still in office until July next year, it is clear that nothing is going to be done to remedy what has become a toxic environment at the organization for the next six months (lest you forget, Battistelli has a permanent bodyguard and even had the brakes of his bike cut – quite something for a man who is very far from the public eye).
However, with a new chair and the appointment of a new president, both staff and some governments have made it plain they intend to clear up the mess that the stubborn and difficult Frenchman has created in his time in charge.
While pressing for reforms, the staff rep told the Administrative Council at the end of their update: "If not now, then hopefully together with the newly elected President. We congratulate him on his election."
The post-Battistelli era will soon be upon the EPO and everyone, it seems, can't wait. ®