On 1 July 2018, António Campinos became president of the European Patent Office, as successor of Benoit Battistelli, whose authoritarian leadership and conflicts with staff members and union leaders led to years of deep social unrest at the EPO. Hundred days after the leadership change, there is cautious optimism Campinos is committed to improving the situation and will take complaints about working conditions and patent quality seriously. Still, in painful dossiers concerning employees who were in conflict with Battistelli, he hasn’t acted.

“What a busy few weeks these have been”, António Campinos wrote in a blogpost on 26 July, less than four weeks after he took office. “As well as a string of management meetings and other duties expected of a new President, I’ve had many enjoyable and productive meetings with staff members from across the EPO, on an individual basis. I felt it important to meet staff one-on-one because their knowledge and understanding of this organisation is crucial for assessing how we can make the Office an even better institution and in which areas we should start to think about making further improvements. So, in nearly a hundred individual coffee meetings in Munich and The Hague – no, I didn’t have coffee every time! – I was able to gather honest and direct feedback from our employees to feed into a strategic plan. (…) These meetings will continue for the next few months and I will meet hundreds more staff members – over 900 have enrolled – as l seek to gather more input that will feed into the strategy of the Office.”

Open to discussion

The message of his blogpost is clear: António Campinos is here to listen. And several observers have confirmed to Kluwer IP Law that these words reflect the reality: the new EPO president, who was chosen for the job among other because of his ‘thorough knowledge and proven practical application of modern management methods, including an outstanding ability to establish and foster social dialogue’, has been talking and listening a lot over the last months. They agree: this is as a positive change from the past.

The article Campinos gives ‘strikingly different’ tone in EPO’s CSC meeting, which was published last month on the website IPPro Patents, seems to confirm this. According to the article, the Central Staff Committee (CSC) had said that ‘Campinos showed himself as “open to discussion”’, during a meeting in which the CSC argued that the EPO’s HR policy poisoned the working atmosphere, among others. The CSC was invited to ‘summarize further issues’ and a follow-up meeting was planned. According to IPPro Patents, the CSC said: “A few small steps forward have been made, others not. We perceived it as a first move in the right direction.”

According to Thorsten Bausch of Hoffmann Eitle, one of four German patent law firms which published an open letter in June expressing concern about developments at the EPO, ‘it is too early to say whether and to what extent the new EPO management will change course and again prioritize quality over production targets, but at least it seems that new President listens better to his staff and stakeholders. This is certainly an improvement in the working climate at the EPO which is to be welcomed.’

Bausch is positive for another reason as well: ‘If rumours I heard are true, the new President also plans to return the 10th floor of the Isar building in Munich – converted by Battistelli into his private penthouse – to office use, which would be an important and quite positive signal of more personal modesty and dedication to the common good cause. In addition, it would also be very important to restore trust in the EPO as an institution that respects the rule of law and the rights of staff, not least because this would also have a direct impact on the EPO’s attractiveness as an employer for highly qualified examiners.’

Despite the positive signs in the first hundred days, it is clear that Campinos will still have to show what his ambitions and abilities are. This blogger found it was very hard to get information from EPO employees. Under Article 19 of the Service Regulations, they don’t feel free to say anything about their work because it can lead to all kinds of sanctions. The climate of fear has not disappeared. It means that despite the new president’s invitation to speak out, people may be reluctant to do so.

In this respect: it seemed such an improvement that the president opened his blogposts for comments. But not one single reaction has appeared online. This cannot be because nobody has an opinion about the EPO, can it? It would certainly help Campinos’ ambition to hear what people have to say about his organisation, if comments were published below his blogposts or, at least, it was clear what happens with them.

Labour conflicts

The new president has not used his first hundred days in office to act in a number of painful dossiers concerning employees, mostly (former) leaders of the SUEPO trade union, who were in conflict with Battistelli and were fired or demoted on dubious grounds.

In the same week that Battistelli said goodbye, the Administrative Tribunal of the International Labour Organisation (ILOAT) reversed his dismissals and downgrading of SUEPO leaders Ion Brumme, Elizabeth Hardon and Malika Weaver – after years of uncertainty (and lack of income). High sums of moral damages had to be paid. Brumme was allowed to return to work, Weaver’s demotion was reversed, but Hardon’s case was remitted by the ILOAT to the EPO for a new decision and she hasn’t heard anything since.

Nor has the change of leadership led to change in the situation of former union leader Laurent Prunier, who claims it is obvious from various documents that he was dismissed by Battistelli illegally as well, just as in the cases of Brumme and Hardon. Unless the EPO acts, he may have to wait for justice until his case is finally up for a decision at the ILOAT somewhere next year.

A very questionable case which is still pending as well concerns Patrick Corcoran, an Irish board of appeal member who was suspended in December 2014 on suspicion of having distributed defamatory material about the EPO upper management. No less than three and a half years later the ILOAT ruled that Corcoran should be immediately reinstated in his former post (see here and here) and the Landgericht München acquitted Mr. Corcoran of all charges. However, as his term at the Boards of Appeal was almost over and was not extended by the Administrative Council, Mr. Corcoran was effectively hindered to resume his work as an appeal board member and was demoted to become examiner again. On top of that, Battistelli decided to have Corcoran transferred to another specially created post in The Hague, where the judge had never lived, which meant one additional significant and unwarranted hardship for him.

These cases are widely considered as a darker part of the legacy of former EPO president Benoit Battistelli. If António Campinos deals with these in a way which is seen as appropriate and correct, this will certainly strengthen the cautiously positive first impression the new EPO president made in his first hundred days.


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6 comments

  1. Very good article: indeed during the past 3 months nothing concrete has happened under Campinos

    All those responsible for the mess are still comfortably seating at their positions (eg Mrs Bergot in HR, her husband at the Presidential Cabinet).

    As shown by IPPropatents recently (see http://www.ippropatents.com/ippropatentsnews/article.php?article_id=6101) principal directors in DG1 practice a double language: pretending towards staff they would care about quality when, at the same time, they instruct their managers to keep production pressure to reach non-sensical targets.

    Campinos meets staff directly? Don’t be fooled: this means nothing else but him circumventing the statutory (elected) staff representation (please keep in mind that Campinos has not met yet with the SUEPO Central (which represents only about half of EPO staff).

    The abusively sanctioned staff reps whose case are still on-going (eg Els Hardon, Laurent Prunier and others) have not yet been redressed. Several who won their cases at ATILO are still shamelessly mistreated by DG4 despite their case clearly won.

    Worse: Campinos even fired an examiner despite the Staff Representatives having asked to postpone the decision since it is very likely that the legal provisions are illegal (more dismissal are in sight since DG4 wants to continue its mad carpet bombing towards the workfloor).

    For someone (Campinos) who is said to have a positive track record when it comes to social matters, sorry but his first 3 months are really disappointing!

    As a comparison see Air France: a new CEO arrives and within 2 weeks he has met ALL unions and the HR boss (largely responsible for the social mess) leaves the company…

    WAKE UP Antonio Campinos

  2. Yes, we are all patiently waiting for his next moves.
    For the time being, as you wrote, not much has happened.
    Good news is that from 2019 we will enjoy again two days of national holidays (such as the 15th of August) that BB had boldly decided to take away from us (yes, he did that as well). Rumor says that fresh fruits and water (?!) will also be made available for free to EPO employees.

    Well, I am afraid that much more than that is expected by Mr Campinos to get the EPO back in track, starting from IMMEDIATE lowering of today’s crazy production targets. Also, several “promotions” are urgently needed for us to get rid of those people who – all of them – are still around “poisoning the working atmosphere” every single day.
    Things will become much clearer already after the administrative council next week, featuring the production targets for 2019 and the nomination of three new vicepresidents. Many say that both the targets and the winners were decided (by BB) long time ago. Let’s see whether Mr Campinos is willing to surprise us.
    Good luck Mr President. We are watching you, cautiously positively.

  3. With regards to once again allowing comments to be posted on the President’s blog, something President Brimelow had introduced and then President Battistelli had suppressed, for the moment the “facility” remains on the website, but it has not been restored. Always the optimist, I understand that this “normal” channel will be opened again soon.

    However, for the moment, submitting a comment just leads you nowhere. I tried in early July and didn’t even get an acknowledgement, let alone a posting or a rejection (all postings are subject to screening). A follow-up enquiry to Internal Communications went similarly unanswered, as did an e-mail to the President’s Office. Finally, it was even brought up in a personal face-to-face meeting with the President, where it was acknowledged that things would (have to) change (hence my optimism above), but until now I have neither seen nor received one iota of follow-up.

    I accept this is probably not the highest priority on the Presidential agenda, but I would have appreciated some acknowledgment of receipt of my comment, if only out of common courtesy. I certainly do not blame the President, but I do wonder whether it ever received serious consideration for publication or was simply “filtered out” by some over-zealous bureaucrat.

    By the way, the content of my posting was not at all critical, rather complimentary. Acknowledging the apparent opening up of the blog, it wished the (then brand-new) President well and hoped that it was his intention to try and realise his goals through collaboration and openness with staff rather than intimidation and Diktat …

  4. Mr Campinos shows signs of wanting to have a different approach of staff relations than its predecessor. This is certainly positive, but by far, not enough.

    To start with, the stupid practice to only give examiners 5 years contracts should be revised.

    The position of all the minions put at strategic places within the EPO by its predecessor should be re-assessed. If they do not leave at the end of their PD time, they should be put aside as soon as possible. The first one to be moved should be the PD HR. Should he fail to do so, Mr Campinos will not obtain the confidence of staff.

    It will be difficult for him to lower the ridiculous production targets, as the net result is that the contracting states might then obtain less renewal fees, and at a later point in time. They are not prepared to give up a nice cash flow.

    What is not too good is the fact that the new VPs will be handpicked by him as the VP job announcements have been clearly tailored according to his wishes. Going from Head of the Administrative Council (AC) to VP should not be tolerated (like it should not have been tolerated in the past, also for the job of President of the EPO). But we all know by now that the AC is too weak to do its job of controlling the EPO.

    Last but not least, Mr Campinos should convene the Conference of ministers of the Contracting States responsible for patent matters as provided in Art 4a EPC. His predecessor blatantly refused to do so, although such a conference should have been convened at least twice.

    The seed of hope might have been planted, but it needs to be nurtured. Only facts will do so.

    Techrights: FINGERS OFF!!

  5. Mr Campinos is following a well-worn path in having “face -to-face” meetings with individual staff. We have been here before, times out of mind. There was the “Broad Consultation” and other similar initiatives by newly-arrived Presidents and Vice-Presidents. I can’t remember the names of all of them, but they had in common an attempt to seem to be addressing staff’s concerns, whilst studiously avoiding the staff’s elected representatives. You will not get an honest picture from a group of staff that either self-selects with a view to ingratiating themselves with the new powers that be, or is selected against for known unpalatable views. On one occasion there was even written proof that the management planned to falsely claim that performance -related pay had been demanded by staff in one such “consultation”.

  6. I see that the chair of the AC (Mr Ernst) has been appointed to a senior position at the EPO.

    This raises a serious question. Currently Mr Ernst is a “gamekeeper”, who has responsibility for ensuring that the EPO is kept in line. However, if the organisation that is supposed to be the subject of his oversight can, whilst he is still their overseer, offer him a lucrative position, how can the EPO be prevented from using such offers as a way of ensuring that their overseers stays “onside” during their tenure at the AC?

    I must stress that I have no knowledge of the specifics of the situation concerning Mr Ernst, and I am not suggesting that there is any “corruption” involved. What I AM saying, however, is that this kind of revolving door scenario could easily be exploited by those seeking to misuse the system for their own financial gain. Should the AC and the EPO therefore not introduce (and enforce) ethical rules that are aimed at ensuring that not only is there no impropriety within the organisation, but that the public can SEE that there is no such impropriety? After all, the EPO has implemented rules aimed at ensuring that its employees do not accept appointments in situations where there could be a (perceived) conflict of interest … and what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander!

    Civil service organisations usually have rules that are intended to stop exactly this kind of “gamekeeper turned poacher” scenario. Are we to assume that the rules do not apply when the “poacher” is also a pseudo civil service organisation? More to the point, how can those paying fees to the EPO be sure that their funds are not being misused for “corrupt” purposes (ie creating plump roles for AC members / heads in order to ensure that the AC “looks the other way” on issues in which the EPO management has a financial self-interest)?

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