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Euro Patent Office hit with wave of anti-Battistelli letters

Will you please get rid of him, world+dog asks Admin Council

By Kieren McCarthy, 16 Mar 2017

Another wave of letters condemning the controversial president of the European Patent Office, Benoit Battistelli, has been sent ahead of a meeting of the organization's Administrative Council this week in Munich.

The council is due to discuss posting a vacancy notice for the presidency, with Battistelli's term due to end in July 2018 – a step that would lead to the controversial Frenchman being turned into a lame duck president as soon as this July.

Among the letters are:

  • One from an unofficial group of EPO staff (EPO Flier) who called on the Administrative Council – for a fourth time – to take action against Battistelli.
  • One from the Federation of International Civil Servants Associations (FISCA) to Mr Battistelli lodging a "formal complaint against what has evidently become systematic mistreatment of staff representatives."
  • One from the staff association of CERN to the EPO's staff union, SUEPO, offering its support in its "battle to maintain the possibility to perform your union duties in accordance with the prevailing conditions in all international organisations."
  • One from the staff representative of the European Central Bank in Frankfurt to German Chancellor Angela Merkel outlining Battistelli's behavior and asking her to pressure the German representative to EPO to stop supporting the president.
  • Another from EPO Flier to the Dutch government – which is reviewing the EPO's behavior – outlining its concerns and suggesting questions that should be asked.

The depth and breadth of the complaints – and the vehemence with which they are expressed – reflect the fact that despite numerous complaints against EPO management and the president in particular, Battistelli has continued to push unwelcome reforms and sack staff members who resist them.

Most recently, Dutch foreign minister Bert Koenders wrote a damning letter to the chairman of its House of Representatives outlining conversations between himself and EPO vice-president Guillaume Minnoye in which he warned that without rapid improvement he would "see no other option but to discuss the situation at a high political level with the member states of the European Patent Organization."

The International Labour Organization (ILO) has also published an extraordinary paper to be considered at a meeting of its governing body later this month in Geneva that complains about how the EPO's management is causing so many complaints that it is undermining its ability to do its job.

This is also on top of very public criticism of Battistelli by the French trade minister, and condemnation from union organizations across Europe, as well as strong criticism from within the EPO itself.

Battistelli is rapidly running out of time, but he still has strong supporters within the organization, including Admin Council chair Jesper Kongstad who is attempting to protect Battistelli from being forced out by claiming that there needs to be a two-thirds vote by EPO member states to publish a vacancy notice, rather than a simple majority.

The Admin Council will have to decide this week whether to put the vacancy notice to a vote at its next meeting or run it through a written approval process. If it goes to a vote Battistelli will likely lose, but if a two-thirds approval is required, the president may just manage to avoid being told a year out that he is no longer wanted.

This week's series of letters is likely to tip the balance slightly – especially if Chancellor Merkel decides to pay the issue attention. Just how much impact they have however, we will have to wait and see. ®

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