EPO Staff Seek WIPO-Style Disciplinary Guidelines As Reports Show High Levels Of Discontent 11/10/2016 by Dugie Standeford for Intellectual Property Watch 2 Comments Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)With management-staff relations at the European Patent Office still spiralling downward, staff members are pressing the office’s governing council to consider adopting proposed disciplinary and investigation guidelines currently under discussion in the World Intellectual Property Organization. Meanwhile, two studies present a fairly consistent picture of the office’s internal social situation. The EPO buildings, Munich The Administrative Council (AC), made up of members of the EPO member states, meets 12-13 October in Munich. In an 11 October letter to the council, the EPO-FLIER team, which identifies itself as a “group of concerned staff” who wish to remain anonymous “due to the prevailing harsh social climate and absence of rule of law” at the office, blasted President Benoît Battistelli’s proposed new disciplinary and investigation guidelines and urged governments instead to consider a WIPO proposal (available here). Battistelli’s new guidelines, if approved, would allow the president to dismiss staff members for “professional incompetence” without any meaningful advisory review, and would also permit the administration to investigate and discipline employees without due process, the EPO-FLIER letter said. It asked AC members to consider WIPO’s recently proposed investigation guidelines, saying that while WIPO has “immense problems in its staff relations,” it seems to have floated a balanced proposal that includes an independent investigative unit, due process guarantees and whistle-blower protections. A summary of conclusions from the 22 September AC Board meeting noted that the German delegation “was unhappy with President’s change proposal for the Investigation Guidelines CA/52/16 Rev. 1 … so that ‘no common understanding could be reached on the right to be silent and on other issues. The President had strong reservations on this issue, insisting on the necessity to ensure an efficient procedure to fight fraud and harassment, and reserved the possibility to withdraw the package from the agenda.’” The discussion around the German delegation’s stance is part of the normal exchange of views ahead of an AC meeting, an EPO spokesman said. The point has already moved forward and another version of the conclusions will be discussed with the AC this week, he said. The office’s current investigation procedures are “already fully in line with the best international standards” and it is “ready to consider further elements,” the spokesman said. EPO, Union Studies Show Strong Internal Stresses At an 11 October social conference, EPO management presented a PWC “social study” which followed an earlier staff survey by the office’s largest union, SUEPO. The April 2016 staff study, “enquiry into the psychosocial risks conducted for the Staff Union of the EPO,” polled all 6770 staff members, of whom around 39 percent responded. It found, among other things, that the psychosocial risk had intensified “in a significant manner” as work was carried out in a tenser atmosphere and the sense of meaning behind the work became appreciably weakened. The survey also showed that the proportion of employees satisfied with their professional life is “markedly low,” with 82 percent of respondents saying working conditions had deteriorated in the last three years. The study is available here [pdf]. The EPO social study (not available online yet) surveyed staff about the impact of the office’s various reforms by considering organisational effectiveness, culture and communication, and job satisfaction. The report, the EPO said, confirmed that the office “offers an attractive social environment with competitive employment conditions for its highly qualified staff,” and that its internal legal framework compares favourably with other organisations. The study found “mixed results” on job satisfaction, with only 37 percent of overall aggregated satisfaction results being positive, “a sharp drop from the 74 percent positive rating achieved in 2011,” it said. Only 46 percent of employees believe their work gives them a sense of accomplishment, and overall job satisfaction registered a mean score of 2.79 out of 5, it said. The survey “shows that social dialogue within the EPO remains weak despite a well-structured legal framework and all the initiatives and attention afforded by the stakeholders,” it said. PWC urged the office to introduce a more robust and transparent interaction mechanism between management and staff committees. There is a “level of perceived dissatisfaction and strong resistance to change” in the EPO, particularly given that changes were implemented over a relatively short time frame, it said. Situation Has “Spun Out of Control” In a 12 February 2016 letter, made public on 29 September by techrights.org (available here), http://techrights.org/2016/09/29/netherlands-institute-of-patent-attorneys-on-battistelli/ the president of the 500-member Dutch Institute of Patent Attorneys (Nederlandse Orde van Octrooigemachtigden) told the AC that while the Orde applauds EPO efforts to set worldwide standards in patent quality and efficiency, it “has to express its serious and on-going concern” about the way in which the office’s reinvention process is happening and the “effects that it has on the image of the EPO.” Specifically, the letter said, patent lawyers are worried about developments regarding the organisation and government of the Boards of Appeals and the treatment of EPO personnel. The Orde observed that employment conditions at the office and the basic rights of employees are “seriously compromised.” In the beginning, staff opposition seemed to be a common and understandable reaction to changes every organisation experiences, but over time the information that reached the public became more and more serious, with union officials subjected to disciplinary measures and downgraded, pension reductions and firings, the organisation said. “It seems that the people at the EPO are afraid of their own management,” the Orde said. “We sincerely believe that the current situation at the EPO has spun out of control by the actions of its President,” and that the AC should stop Battistelli from “continuing these unproductive and destructive practices,” it said. The current climate holds negative consequences for the future of the European patent, EPO-FLIER said. The estimated 2016 over 2014 increase in production (up 23 percent) and productivity (up 11 percent) “is not a sign of successful reforms but rather proves that the examiners have lost any ambition to withstand unrealistic and arbitrary production targets imposed on them by the Administration” – to the detriment of patent quality. Image Credits: EPO Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window) Related Dugie Standeford may be reached at email@example.com."EPO Staff Seek WIPO-Style Disciplinary Guidelines As Reports Show High Levels Of Discontent" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.