A strike at the EPO, which was to be held during the meeting of the Administrative Council in Munich later this week, has been called off.

The EPO’s trade union SUEPO had submitted a call for a strike, which would have been the first one since Campinos took office last year, ‘after a rather disappointing meeting with the President on 16 May’. But according to SUEPO, the ‘call for strike – and no doubt also the letter from FICSA and the resolution unanimously adopted at the recent USF Congress – seems to have focused senior management´s minds.’

During a meeting with both the Central Staff Committee (CSC) and the SUEPO Central on 3 June, ‘the President showed understanding for several points, according to a SUEPO announcement. ‘This resulted in some concrete commitments and limited progress.’ It added: ‘As SUEPO Central prefers to negotiate, to sit around the table and to arrive at strong, negotiated solutions, those, admittedly small, steps gave rise to the SUEPO delegation agreeing to propose to General Assemblies at the different sites not to strike (for now).’

The SUEPO gave ‘a brief overview of the commitments/statements made by Mr Campinos, for each of the points mentioned in the call for strike, irrespective of how we actually assess them (e.g. positive, insufficient, negative):

  1. Fair settlement for all SUEPO Officials/staff representatives abusively sanctioned by the Battistelli administration ➢ The President intends to start a new approach (apparently involving an external mediator), addressing the open cases first. No commitment was made with respect to the consideration of the status quo ante or the necessity to find an urgent solution.
  2. Fair reporting, instead of artificially underrating hundreds of colleagues “far below expectations” ➢ Communiqué was published to reassure staff that an incompetence procedure is not automatically triggered by a “far below” assessment, but is and remains a highly exceptional procedure. Additionally, commitment to continuing meetings and negotiations with CSC and SUEPO to arrive at an unambiguous regulation on the implementation of Article 52 ServRegs.
  3. Respect for staff instead of threat of incompetence procedures ➢ See above + A dedicated meeting will be organised with VP1, geared specifically at production pressure and CQI.
  4. Fair career progression for everyone, no managerial arbitrariness ➢ Our proposal to align the 2019 budget envelope for pensionable rewards in the Rewards Guidelines (EUR 10.8m) to the one of about EUR 12.8m contained in CA/D 1/181 will not be followed. For next year the reward envelope will be reevaluated. ➢ The President stated that – from next year onwards – the presence of staff representatives in the Harmonisation Committee should no longer be taboo. ➢ Putting into place transitional measures for the past from old to new career system: Staff representation was asked to table a proposal in writing.
  5. People-oriented management, instead of management by fear ➢ Confirmation by President that – unlike what has happened in the IT area (now “BIT”) – there will be no change of management in HR 2 (…) ➢ President will consider whether staff matters should feature more prominently in his Strategic Plan
  6. Fair assessment of the financial situation, no pension reform based on a heavily biased study ➢ The President published his commitment not to trick staff with a sudden launch of a pension reform, should one be needed. (…)
  7. Fair salary and pension adjustment procedure for the coming years, no erosion of purchasing power ➢ President stated that any future salary method should protect staff and pensioners from inflation. (…)

SUEPO letter to EPO president and Administrative Council

In a letter that the SUEPO sent to president Campinos last week, with a copy to all delegations of the Administrative Council, the SUEPO warns social tensions are far from over and expresses concern that Campinos has celebrated “major” achievements, whereas they are, ‘in our opinion, only a few, relatively minor steps towards the necessary re-establishment of the Rule of Law at the EPO. These steps are simply the beginning of a long process, and are far from being sufficient to restore social peace after years of massive staff rights violations under Mr Battistelli.’

In the letter, the SUEPO also criticizes the way in which Campinos expressed himself about pending cases of sanctioned union and staff representatives. Although last year the Administrative Tribunal of the ILO reversed dismissals and downgrading of three SUEPO leaders by former EPO president Battistelli, this has not led to quick actions by Campinos in similarly questionable cases: ‘You wrote: “[T]he office cannot accept any terms of settlement especially where demands involve excessively high financial compensation”. (sic)’ According to the SUEPO, ‘[t]his statement is highly disingenuous. The individuals in question only ask what is owed to them, to restore the status quo ante: nothing more. What is owed may now be substantial, but by no means excessive.’

EPO president António Campinos came in charge in July 2018 and said listening to the staff would be a high priority for him. Disappointingly to many, this has not led to important changes nor a better social climate. A recent internal survey showed EPO staff has a very negative view of management effectiveness, low confidence in senior management decisions and lack of clarity about direction. Alarming and ominous as well: only 39 percent of staff member think they are treated with respect.

It is not clear whether the dismal EPO staff survey, the situation of dismissed staff representatives and/or social tensions more in general will be discussed during the AC meeting on 26 and 27 June in Munich. In the past the Administrative Council has often been criticized for failing to control the presidency’s policy and actions.


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9 comments

  1. It is incomprehensible that Mr Campinos act in this way.

    Why does he endorse the mad actions of his predecessor? Why does he protect top managers who acted illegally and de facto maintains injustice to those who have suffered from their actions?

    Not only the sanctioned staff reps but the entire EPO structure is maintained under far too high production pressure, fear of retaliation and thus chronical stress.

    He is a lawyer by training. Why does he do at the EPO what he could never have done in Brussels in the EU institutions?

    Can someone explain to me what purpose does this strategy serve? Does he (do they) take pleasure in making people suffer?

  2. Neither the new President nor anybody in Senior Management has the intention to change anything – aside from cutting costs, meaning reduced staff benefits, with the support of the bogus financial study.

    We have seen one area of major progress: information technology. Here, the Office decided to rely on Google Chrome as third browser, in addition to Internet Explorer and Firefox. This will, without doubt, massively boost quality, quantity, motivation and staff engagement.

    The latest talk is about an “agile culture” which allegedly has brought major benefits in various companies. So far, I still miss an explanation of what “agile culture” is and how it shall be compliant with the very rigid guidelines we have on how search and examination are to be carried out. We examiners are not at liberty in performing these tasks. More or less every step is regulated down to the tiny detail. I have the feeling my top management remains blissfully ignorant about the services the Office provides and the work done by substantive examiners.

    As to the staff survey with devastating results, the only visible reaction is an assurance that “work is going on”. Hm. I would not know about you, but getting slapped in face for lack of respect and having nothing to offer aside from fuzzy, unsubstantiated assurances falls somewhat short. Months have passed, there is nothing tangible.

    The Council, in all likelihood, will not do anything substantial. They have become very good in doing this during the last years.

    We examiners are between a rock and a hard place. The only way to remain sane and healthy is to adapt the quality we deliver to the time we are allowed to spend. Professional pride in doing a good job is outdated.

  3. Perhaps the answer behind EPO’s chaotic management is to be found here: http://techrights.org/2019/06/05/drunk-on-power/

    Apparently, what is reported in this article seems to be confirmed by several internal sources. It would even be a recurrent pattern e.g. dinner with EPI representatives, or dinner with high producers, also in Delft (NL)

    The current EPO president is de facto relying on Battistelli’s minions to run the EPO for him who has no time to work since life has so many facets to enjoy.

  4. It has been said by different bloggers, but as long as the president will not put aside the head of HR and her husband, the head of the presidential bureau, he will not gain the trust and confidence of staff. It is what you hear when speaking with examiners, not crazy ones, very reasonable ones.

    As he managed to trash the IT system put in place by its predecessor, why can’t he not trash this “duo infernale”. The system of the COO, which is as well barely legal, should also be trashed and the EPO come to a structure conform to the EPC with 4 Directorates General, since the BA are now an allegedly independent unit.

    I do not know what “agile culture” is or means, but it seems that the president has decided, supported by all the “Yes Mr President” around him that in the future the examiners should all sit in open space offices.

    I have never seen a firm of patent attorneys or a patent office, beside in Japan, were attorneys/examiners sit in open spaces. In the US you have the so called cubicles, and the higher you are in the hierarchy, the nearer you are to daylight. This is not much better, but in both cases it a cultural heritage of the country.

    It is not because putting staff in open spaces worked well at the EUIPO in Alicante that it is good for examiners at the EPO. The nature of the work is quite different. The constant wish of examiners is to have single offices. To put 2 newcomers in one office, is useful, but after a while the wish for an individual office is very high.

    Putting examiners in open space offices shows once again of the profound lack of knowledge, not to say the disdain, of the EPO management for the work of an examiner. The three COO were all once examiners, but I take bet that in order not to endanger their re-appointment, they will say yes to a measure they know deep down is crazy.

    On the other hand, putting examiners in an open space and the director on a pedestal in the open space will allow the latter to better watch his subordinates. He could well, like in Roman galleys, set the working pace by beating a drum…..

    Techrights: FINGERS OFF!!!

    1. A step forward after forcing examiners to sit together in open space offices would be to have a lector of novels, like in Cuban cigar factories. Even better, in order to save money by removing the human reader, one could introduce modified radios which can only tune in on approved frequencies (like in North Korea): channel 1: Battistelli speeches, channel 2: Campinos speeches. Oh, we have such great times before us!

  5. It will be interesting to see what decisions are taken at the upcoming meeting of the AC.

    If the AC were intent on fulfilling its supervisory role, one might expect it to be alarmed by the truly terrifying results of the staff survey, and to instruct the President to take corrective action.

    Also, one might expect the AC to dig into the details of the financial study, to chide the President for making unreasonable assumptions (in an apparent attempt to create the misleading impression that the EPO is in financial crisis), and to consign the study to the waste bin.

    These two points are just the tip of the iceberg, and there are many other issues to which a fully functional AC would turn its attention (such as important ILO judgements still not yet implemented, to name just one).

    Judging from their recent track record, it seems that the AC is unlikely to be motivated to do much other than take actions that either preserve or increase the flow of funds from the EPO to the national offices. Provided that a proposal from the President satisfies that objective, then it seems that pretty much anything goes for the current AC. Thus, whilst I would very much like to be disproven on this point, I suspect that we will see the AC rubber-stamping yet further proposals that reap financial benefits for those in the club but that do nothing to help make the EPO fit for purpose.

    Applicants and the public deserve better. But there is no way that they will ever get what they deserve unless and until the EPC member states remove the conflicts of interest that make AC members so motivated by money. In this regard, it is perhaps no coincidence that the era of serious troubles at the EPO began not so long after the financial crisis of 2007-2008.

  6. To those who wonder what an “agile culture” is, please have a look at how France Telecom was driven to folly due to a HR management similar to that of the EPO (under Battistelli the EPO had a suicide rate similar to that of France Telecom. None of the cases reported by the central staff committee was investigated since Battistelli refused independent enquiries by competent local authorities).

    In concrete terms, an “agile culture” means getting rid of elderly staff under permanent employment (too expensive) at all costs to replace them by far cheaper younger ones (lacking experience and badly trained), who will work under time-limited contracts. New recruits at EPO will not have the luxury to enjoy a pension since the undeclared aim of HR is to getting rid of them at the end of their 2nd and last time-limited contract, precisely before they qualify to pension rights.

    But my friends do not worry: of course, HR top management will always make sure that favourites, friends and family members get a permanent position and a decent pension

  7. The EPO’s Strategic Plan makes for grim reading. (https://www.epo.org/about-us/office/strategy.html)

    Despite the attempts to obscure the true meaning of objectives with excessive use of “management speak”, certain points stand out even at a glance, as illustrated below.

    STATEMENT: “Development plans will gradually increase the capabilities of staff under the new employment framework, by defining a policy to also enhance staff competencies and performance over the first ten years of their employment (five year contract + five year contract), with tailored training and development. Both contract renewal and a permanent employment offer will be subject to the application of transparent and objective criteria, such as individual performance, operational needs and long-term financial sustainability”.
    TRANSLATION: In the future, the EPO will offer few, if any permanent contracts to examiners. It will also reduce overheads by minimising the number of experienced (for which read “expensive”) examiners.

    STATEMENT: Staff members are represented at the EPO by staff representatives directly elected at local and central levels. In order to facilitate collective bargaining and build consensus, the framework in which the EPO management and these staff representatives interact will be reviewed to ensure efficiency and avoid the duplication of efforts.
    TRANSLATION: We will pick a structure for interacting with staff representatives that makes it even harder for collective bargaining to have any perceivable impact upon our policies.

    STATEMENT: The topics subject to discussion will be identified before the start of each calendar year to allow for sufficient preparation and increase the likelihood of achieving constructive outcomes that are acceptable to all stakeholders.
    TRANSLATION: We want to be able to delay discussion of new policies until those policies have already become firmly established.

    STATEMENT: The unions enjoy a significant level of recognition at the Office, which covers freedom of association, the right to call strikes, the right to call for a general assembly that can also be organised on Office premises, and access to communication channels such as in the intranet, noticeboards and leaflet distribution. To formalise the framework of relations between the Office and the unions, a memorandum of understanding will be discussed based on national and international best practices. Among other things, the right to strike will be revisited as part of the discussion.
    TRANSLATION: We don’t like strikes and will try to further limit the circumstances under which they can be called.

    STATEMENT: Finally, the Office aims to ensure that internal means of redress are a last resort, to avoid a proliferation of proceedings on the same topic, to encourage the withdrawal of appeals which have become irrelevant and to promote respect for the scope of the internal appeals system. The effectiveness of internal mechanisms of redress is an important condition for the Office’s immunity from jurisdiction and its operational independence.
    TRANSLATION: We cannot believe that we actually lost some important cases at the ILO. To stop this happening again, we intend to pressure complainants into giving up before the ILO hears their cases.

    STATEMENT: As the Office brings its backlog under control, the EPO will be more exposed to variations in demand. This calls for a more dynamic business model to ensure increased productivity and more effective management of incoming work.
    Greater adaptability and flexibility among examiners and formalities officers will constitute a major element of this dynamic business model. It will therefore be crucial to identify emerging trends early, so that if a staff member needs to change technical field, proper training can be offered well in advance.
    TRANSLATION: Short term contracts will become essential to making our workforce more flexible. Oh, and that old-fashioned idea of ensuring that applicants get their cases examined by someone who might understand the technology involved? Yeah, we’re not really too bothered about that any more. Allocation of examiners will be based more upon who happens to have spare capacity at the time.

    I could go on … at great length. But the general message seems to be reduce overheads, pay lip service to quality, continue to turn a deaf ear to both internal and external complaints, and ensure that there are plenty of opportunities for jollies for management (and for tame regulators). Grim reading indeed!

  8. The level of gobbledygook managerial speech at the EPO has been increasing continuously. It reaches some heights one could not dream off in the past, but here reality is above fiction.

    For the AC this sounds well thought of, and will pass without any problem. I take bets that the new tenant of the 10th floor will be lauded for coming up with such drivel.

    The main reason for giving only limited time contracts to examiners is to keep them at the mercy of management. This is see-through. If examiners might be fired after 5 or 10 years, they will be very careful whether they will adhere to a union or to go on strike.

    With only offering 5 years contracts to examiners, the EPO will not attract the best people it could attract. Anybody having started its career in its home country will think twice before leaving it, and all the national security system going with it to come into a system in which he will lose any connection with the latter, and having the perspective to be on the dole after 5 or 10 years. It will only be interesting for mercenaries in pursuit of an adventure, preferably whilst they still are single.

    Even with those who still will come, the net result is that there will be a fluctuating examiner work force. The side effect of this is that with a fluctuating work force, the quality will continue to degrade. First because the training time has been reduced to 2 years, and for any examiner leaving before or with 5 years, the training investment will have been in vain. Second there will be no continuity. We all have witnessed the appalling quality in the US for precisely this reason.

    As I do not know any firm of patent attorneys showing its representatives, I also do not know any giving only a 5 years contract to its newcomers. There might be a clause not to leave immediately after being successful at the EQE, but this seems nothing abnormal, if the training investment should not have been in vain.

    The particularity of the work of an examiner/representative does not make it suitable to play “big/modern” manager. What might be valid in a company working for projects limited in time is certainly not valid at the EPO. It would be interesting if all countries having examiners offer those only time limited contracts to start with. Has this question ever be raised at the AC?

    That nowadays job security is not any longer guaranteed is a matter of fact, but the EPO is one employer who does not need to exaggerate in this behaviour. There is no profit to be made as such, but for incentives for the upper management. The more vicious, the more bonus. Why has the EPO gone down to such a level?

    If one would push the EPO down the drain, one would not act differently as the present “management”.

    Techrights: FINGERS OFF!!!

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