back to article European Patent Office staff rep blames prez for 'slipping quality'

Fed up with years of willful ignorance, staff at the European Patent Office publicly called out their president in front of the organization's overseeing body. Meeting at the EPO's headquarters in Munich this week, the organization's Administrative Council – made up of officials from 38 European nations – heard briefly from …

  1. frank ly

    A Mystery?

    According to his Wikipedia article, he was a civil servant of some significance for about 22 years and then spent the years from 2004 onwards in high ranking positions in intellectual property organisations, in the french national organisation and then the EPO. So, on paper he seems to be an ideal person for the job.

    I wonder why he seems to have 'gone freaky' at the EPO.

    1. Steve Button

      Re: A Mystery?

      Because people don't stand up to bullies like this, and they just try to avoid them and stay out of their way. Or leave and go somewhere else, which must be bloody difficult if you are a patent clerk. Unless you have ideas about new Physics theories?

      Anyway, they should all walk out and refuse to work until this pig is removed and stops doing even more damage.

    2. WonkoTheSane
      Headmaster

      Re: A Mystery?

      As the old saying goes:-

      "Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely".

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: A Mystery?

        "Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely".

        A more accurate version would be that power attracts the corruptible. There's a reason that psychopaths tend to cluster to these kinds of positions.

        Whilst it's no secret that the EPO had flaws ("unfireable civil servants", etc), what's happened in terms of reforms and this "the courts have no jurisdiction here" stance is a lot worse.

    3. Potemkine!

      Re: A Mystery?

      Maybe because we keep to have only one side of the story in El Reg, the one pushed forward by the SUEPO, one of the unions of the EPO. it seems there's an ingoing power struggle between this union and the president.

      Look for instance to this comment:

      "The problem of SUEPO in the recent years is its attitude of blind denial that things are changing and the refusal to accept any changes. By doing so, it encouraged those abusing the system to continue, being certain that they would be supported in their (wrong)doing.

      By refusing to think of any changes, this opened the road to ever drastic changes, not only for those who abused the system, but for all staff. Here SUEPO has a direct responsibility.

      Very hard battles have been fought in the past, for instance the salary method. It would have been easy to simply say no to any change. Union leaders at the time did fight and obtained more than what appeared possible originally. It is this type of union leaders who moved up to management functions, as they showed that they were able to take up responsibility. An eminent union member has moved from this position to PD Admin, and he is certainly the exception which confirms the rule. He has not changed his radical views. Simply instead of screaming at the then management, he now screams abuse at his staff. Simply saying NO is indeed a collective failure. This was the only thing the present President waited for in order to hack into the system. "

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A Mystery?

      All this unhappiness from EPO staff and yet the cause of the unhappiness is allowed to remain?

      My guess is that the EPO presidents position is backed by his bosses (i.e. the countries in the EPC) and he's there to "improve" the business.

      Hence the length of time this has rolled on. And my guess is it will continue to roll until it is resolved in the way that the EPC wishes

  2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    Home leave ?

    I despise Batestelli and want his pension revoked, but 10 days extra leave every two years because you've moved far from mommy ?

    I have to admit, if the EPO has money for all those advantages, it might be time to review the amount of money the EPO has.

    1. druck Silver badge
      Flame

      Re: Home leave ?

      You might one day be happy to move out from mommy's house, but some staff have families and children in education, who can't immediately relocate to a country over 900Km away.

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        @druck

        Wrong argument. Home leave is not for people who have yet to relocate, it is for people who already have relocated.

        For people who have yet to relocate, there is the Installation Allowance, ie one month salary bonus. Then there is the Expatriate Allowance, from 16% to 20% of the basic monthly allowance.

        Then there is the possibility of Rent Allowance, meaning that you get your pay plus bonuses and don't have to pay your rent either.

        And there's all the rest, which you obviously have not read.

        Nice job if you can it, any way you look at it. Well, it'll be nice as soon as Batistelli moves out.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: @druck

          Every EU contract has this.... the benefits are ridiculous, but yeah you usually need at least French + English.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Home leave ?

      Bear in mind it is challenging to recruit examiners to the office: they are looking for tri-lingual scientist lawyers willing to relocate to another country. Even in national patent offices a failure to attract and retain outstanding and appropriately qualified staff leads to serious issues with patent search and examination quality (USPTO anyone?! and they don't even need tri-lingual immigrants...)

    3. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: Home leave ?

      Five days extra per year is well less than the number of national holidays in most European countries. Most people probably take that much off in sick leave in a year (hangovers count as sick right?).

      Ten days over two years isn't that much.

    4. Potemkine!

      Re: Home leave ?

      if the EPO has money for all those advantages, it might be time to review the amount of money the EPO has.

      EPO is a real sweatshop, isn't it? Moreover when compared to the treatments some workers get elsewhere...

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Home leave ?

      EPO makes significantly more money than it spends, therein lies part of the problem. The push is to make even more money.

      It also governs itself, rejecting any rule of law of either EU or the host ing country, where even police doesn't get access to its offices, and no taxes are payed locally (employees pay taxes back to the EPO out of their salary). There are plenty of articles elsewhere on this corrupted malformation which avoids any external governance.

      How do you like these latest changes to the rules that target the working staff:

      - Create a fast-track disciplinary procedure, overseen by the president, for instances of "professional incompetence."

      - Allow management to withhold salary if it decides a staff member has "failed to perform his assigned duties while being at work."

      - Put the cost of an unsuccessful appeal onto staff.

      I agree that extra vacation days are a bit too much, but that's only one point out of 14...

  3. jake Silver badge

    Does anybody know who ...

    ... is on the receiving end of favo(u)rs of an oral nature from this guy? Because that's the only reason I can imagine for him still being in office with that level of petulant incompetence. Remove the pleasured party(s) and I'm fairly certain the rest will fall apart of it's own accord.

    1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

      Re: Does anybody know who ...

      Pretty sure it's Satan.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sorry was there an article...

    ...I was so distracted by the appalling Photoshoping (MS Paint?) in the image I had to come straight to the rant section.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Sorry was there an article...

      I don't think it is a photoshopped image. It is just a stock image with a brand new megaphone (you can see the very bottom of the handle just eeking out of her hand in the larger stock image version which they wouldn't bother adding if it was badly 'shopped.

      However the guy is holding a blank placard, which I presume is supposed to be edited to show a protest slogan.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Sorry was there an article...

        The reason the card is blank is that the US patent office have a patent for "Placard with Writing". A clear sign (pun intended) that we need a good quality European patent system.

        1. BebopWeBop Silver badge
          Facepalm

          Re: Sorry was there an article...

          Do you actually have a link for that 0- could not find it in their search. Forgive me but I smell b*llsh*t

  5. The questioner

    Battistelli's proposed reform of recruitment and retention policies is astonishing in many ways. However, for seasoned observers, two features stand out in particular.

    Firstly, all of the reforms aimed at "ordinary" (ie lower level) employees appear to be predicated upon the assumption that the interests of the employer are those of the employees are not aligned, and that the interests of the employer shall always prevail.

    A case in point is paragraph 18:

    "Studies and surveys have shown a pattern of reduction of motivation after about 6 years. The generous social package implies a high opportunity cost for staff to leave the EPO".

    So what does the EPO propose to do about this worrying pattern? Does it express any concern about the fact that experienced employees tend to become demotivated over time? Does it indicate any curiosity about the reasons why such a "pattern" exists in the first place? Does it identify any possibility to make cost savings by improving motivation and retention (ie by avoiding the need to continually train new staff to replace those who knew what they were doing)? Not a bit of it! The proposed solution is to put new recruits on fixed, 5-year contracts, so that:

    "The extension of the contract period will be the opportunity for both employee and employer to express their mutual motivation and agreement to continue the employment relationship".

    So not so much of a "social dialogue" with the staff, then. More of a social monologue along the lines of "we don't care why you and all of your colleagues are demotivated, improve your performance or you're out".

    The situation will not be the same for all employees, however. This is because the reforms propose to create special rules for the management and their hand-picked stooges. Thus, whilst Article 4(1) of the proposed amendments retains the traditional procedure of advertising posts and picking the best candidate, it does away with such troublesome rules for the President, his or her Vice-Presidents and a number of other "special" categories of employees:

    "A procedure other than that of competition may be adopted by the appointing authority for the recruitment or appointment of the senior employees referred to in Article 11 of the European Patent Convention (hereinafter referred to as "the Convention"), for principal directors and also, in exceptional cases, for recruitment to posts which require special qualifications".

    So, trebles all round in the old boys' club!

    It will be a dark day indeed if the Administrative Council approves these proposed reforms.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Dear Pascal,

    Cutting benefits from others may not make you much happier. Instead why don't you fight to acquire some new rights ? (oh but this is a little more difficult than just being cynical of course.)

    This item indeed allowed people to keep a social bound with theirs back home. This was not silly and served a HUMAN/SOCIAL purpose for expats who dedicate their life to an organisation far from home (and are highly likely come back home after 35 years or more).

    This also makes some sense when you have to recruit people on a large geographical basis (38 countries for the EPO) and if want to attract candidates from each of these countries and possibly the best ones (incl. those with the highest work conditions back home eg CH, DK, NO, SE etc). If you are not attractive compared to majors (who propose work place atmospheres often by far much more attractive than the EPO) then you can kiss good bye getting good people joining your organisation.

    You see before speaking short sighted stuff, try first to think next time.

    Btw if you apply at EPO (if you do so asap you and get recruited before 1st January 2018 )you may still qualify to home leave in theory, since in practice, HR lead by Elodie Bergot is already putting on ice the effective recruitment of the selected candidates to make them start AFTER the new policies have been voted.

    Isn'it it nice and caring HR management ?

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: why don't you fight to acquire some new rights ?

      I am self-employed, so I am fighting for my rights every damn day, thank you very much.

      1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

        Re: why don't you fight to acquire some new rights ?

        You're not a member of some sort of organisation that acts as a consolidated voice for your profession/line of work, especially the self-employed?

      2. Bakker

        Re: why don't you fight to acquire some new rights ?

        Lucky you. At the EPO there are no rights allowed - everything is at management diktat cos of immunity from local courts.

      3. Don't mess with EPO staff

        Re: why don't you fight to acquire some new rights ?

        but what's your point then ? if you are not happy with your self employment apply to the EPO !

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. Potemkine!

      Cutting benefits from others may not make you much happier. Instead why don't you fight to acquire some new rights ? (oh but this is a little more difficult than just being cynical of course.)

      You may have noticed that EPO budget comes mainly from States contributions, at a time where deficits run high and people in Europe are more and more taxed.

      I understand that as a privileged one you want to defend your privileges, however I do believe that the burden should be beard by all and some minor sacrifices has to be made to avoid the collapse of the whole system. Fighting to get more money from taxpayers when getting already a lot seems a little bit cynical too.

      1. Bakker

        Not this rubbish again? The EPO is self-funded from fees for its work. The member states pay nothing at all. In fact they receive a share of renewal fees and various services from the EPO for free.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        what you state is wrong. 100% of the work is done at the EPO who gets the money from the applicants and SEND BACK money to long overdue national patent systems most of whom take the money and inject it in their overall budget.

        please before to spreading fake info do some homework

  7. Chris G Silver badge

    Relocation

    Apparently there are sites on the internet where you can hire relocation specialists who will expedite even the most reluctant of individuals to a new position. These positions can include subterranean or submarine locations, frequently they will include positive reenforcement to stay there.

    1. Fat_Tony

      Removing staff representatives from hiring committees.

      This seems fair enough to remove this. Is the objection that the staff reps want to pick (or least have a say) their bosses? Not come across that anywhere before

      1. The questioner

        Re: Removing staff representatives from hiring committees.

        You misunderstand. The proposal is to remove all participation of staff reps in the recruitment process for ANY new employees. As the staff reps never had an input into the appointment of their "bosses" (the Pres and his / her VPs), the change just affects new, lower level recruits.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Removing staff representatives from hiring committees.

        Would it really be that bad for staff members to give an opinion on the recruitment of their potential future boss?

        Seems, fair enough to me. A manager will only get the best out of their staff if the staff respect them and it is great to involve all stakeholders in a process early on. I've certainly been in interviews where I've also had to have conversation/Q&A with staff who would've been working for me.

  8. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

    "Low morale" is possibly the understatement of the year. I know people at EPO Munich and yes, it's bad. Really bad.

    1. chivo243 Silver badge
      Windows

      @allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      +10 if I could there... I have friends in Munich and The Hague\Rijswijk who I just had dinner with last weekend, and I thought IT was making me old, but they both look tired and well worn especially as one is 15 years younger than I...

      Tramp because he looks better than they did...

      1. BebopWeBop Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        20% of my work comes from expert witness work, in Europe and the UK. I have been uniformly impressed by the judges in the European Patent Office (very interested sitting in a hearing - with multiple simultaneous translation and having the English coming through just long enough after the original speaker is slightly discombobulating when I speak good - but not perfect French and German) , although not so impressed by many of the European lawyers who frequently seem to be poorly briefed compare with their UK equivalents.

        1. Bakker

          Should be interesting when the UPC means hearings for you before national courts/judges who may have differing levels of competence/experience/approach. Not sure what the interpreting rules will be.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Back to the question of quality

    It is disappointing to see the usual misunderstandings about the pay and conditions of EPO staff (e.g. that they cost taxpayers money rather than save it, that the level of their salaries uniquely buys them out of access to due process of law, (in contrast to to equally well-paid doctors,lawyers, airline pilots, or anyone working in an occupation needing a high level of skill and qualification), and that they don't need any length of experience, but can easily be replaced by a tyro after a couple of years (just as doctors, airline pilots can, yeah right).

    However, what everyone is losing sight of is what a Patent Office is for. It is to ensure that innovation is fairly rewarded, something vitally important for the economy. Let me give an example. Some years ago I sat next to a patent attorney on a flight between EPO cities. On hearing that I was an EPO examiner he told me that he worked for a company whose product was and is a household name. He said that if not for the EPO the company, which started small, would never have got off the ground. They were a small company with a new product, and the EPO had granted a patent on it. Because of the EPO's reputation for quality of examination, they and their investors had enough confident spend millions successfully defending the patent when it was challenged in several jurisdictions by the "big boys". If they had been unable to trust the EPO's quality they could not have committed the money and nothing would have come of their invention. The name of the product: GoreTex.

    Erosion of quality by absurd production demands favors the "big boys" who find it cheaper and more predictable to produce thickets of low-quality patents and to litigate rather than innovate. The result is stagnation of both innovation and employment.

    For more than 30 years the EPO had a precious reputation, of which the staff was extremely proud. Strange as it may seem to some cynics, any "privilege" we may have enjoyed was an added stimulus to high standards, apart from the pride and satisfaction we took in our work, because we knew we were contributing to society. It is reasonable to demand that anyone enjoying good pay and conditions produces good work and we did. The frustration of the staff has in fact nothing to do with money, but rather with being forced to violate our consciences.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Patent examiners aren't too well paid if they are allowed to (can competent for) doing their job professionally which means a top research above all = TIME (precisely what they do not have anymore thanks to the policies of Battistelli).

    In comparison try this one : https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-10-11/morgan-stanley-is-said-to-plan-2-500-an-hour-analyst-fees?utm_source=yahoo&utm_medium=bd&utm_campaign=headline&cmpId=yhoo.headline&yptr=yahoo

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