The industrial actions at the European Patent Office, which were organised by trade union SUEPO with the support of the Central Staff Committee (CSC), go into their fourth month next week.

The main reason for discontent with the EPO management is a new salary adjustment procedure which, according to SUEPO, ’causes a disastrous immediate and long-term loss of purchasing power and denies the massive efforts made by EPO staff during the last two pandemic years.” In a letter circulated among EPO staff it specified the “inflation in the Netherlands of 11.2% and in Germany of 7.8% over the last 12 months accounts for far more than a double step reward (on average 1 step equals 2%). Less than 60% of eligible staff (actually less than 50% of all staff) may receive a single step let alone a double step this year. This is the worst year in the career of EPO staff which comes at the time when staff worked diligently through the worst pandemic of the century and the worst inflation since the EPO inception.’

SUEPO also demands the revision of the EPO Service Regulations so that they comply with fundamental rights and the principles of legitimate expectations and acquired rights (in line with judgments of the Administrative Tribunal of the ILO); restoration of a deterministic career system; the review and elimination of the detrimental effects of the Education Reform.

The social tensions at the EPO led to an unprecedented outburst of anger of president António Campinos last month. In a meeting on 26 April 2022, described as ‘abysmal’ by the CSC, he reportedly ‘used foul language throughout (…) and insulted most of the speakers. The CSC members were not just interrupted but prevented from speaking multiple times (…)’ up to a point where the EPO president told CSC members: ‘You will never have such a nice person being the f***ing President for the next fifty f***ing years. So you wake up and make agreements with me, or you never will for your f***ing life.’

This is at least what the CSC wrote to staff. In the official EPO report there is only a vague and short reference to what happened: ‘The latest General Consultative Committee (GCC) meeting took place on Tuesday 26 April. Unfortunately, the meeting was less constructive than expected, with some issues creating tension at times. Three topics, previously discussed productively in joint working groups or previous exchanges, were presented to the GCC.’ The rest of the report is dedicated to the Young Professionals programme and secondment of national experts, among others.

Kluwer IP Law contacted the EPO for a reaction on the CSC’s letter, asking expressly if it could confirm or deny whether the CSC’s report was accurate and correct, including the description of the behaviour and texts of president Campinos. But a spokesperson replied the EPO didn’t wish to comment.

Silence so far also from Josef Kratochvíl, elected Chairman of the Administrative Council, who was contacted by this author about the occurrences of 26 April as well.


_____________________________

Kluwer IP Law
This page as PDF

20 comments

  1. “Silence so far also from Josef Kratochvíl, elected Chairman of the Administrative Council, who was contacted by this author about the occurrences of 26 April ”

    The matter is rather simple: either Mr Campinos misbehaved or he did not. I bet that if he had not, after SUEPO’s report the EPO would have immediately accused SUEPO of manipulating but they refrain from it. Guess why.

    Mr Kratochvíl knows perfectly well that Mr Campinos misbehaved.

  2. Actually, if we read the president’s words removing the fuc***, it says: “You will never have such a nice person being the President for the next fifty years. So you wake up and make agreements with me, or you never will for your life.” Isn’t this an invitation for negotiation? Sounds like he has made some offers, and the counterpart is sleeping. My question is, who is sitting with the president to make deals, and to whom does this person report? After some years with the present president, what has this CSC member achieve? The CSC “boss” should also check on the ​member’s ability to reach a deal. If the member can’t manage, isn’t it time to find someone else?

  3. It seems that Silence Dogood has more information than I have, they may (or may not) be right. However, does anyone for one second believe that there is any negotiation? Silence Dogood writes that it sounds like some offers have been made, I am wondering whether they are of the “take or leave” variety, or genuine offers in the course of a negotiation.

    The Wikipedia page on negotiation starts with this: “Negotiation is a dialogue between two or more people or parties with the intention of reaching a beneficial outcome regarding one or more issues where a conflict exists.” and later mentions: “The degree to which the negotiating parties trust each other to implement the negotiated solution is a major factor in determining whether negotiations are successful or not.”

  4. To Silence Dogood,
    What is there to negotiate with a person who has systematically worsen the conditions of employment and wants to continue on this track?
    The whole financial study taken as pretext for blocking salaries and reducing benefits was an absolute scam. Just an example: the EPO would get any renewal fees for the next years.
    All actions of this president were to lower working conditions!
    Negotiation means discussing matters seriously and not merely take it or leave it.
    You take it as I am the boss is his actual attitude.
    And vulgarity has never helped a cause!
    Let’s be realistic!

  5. The EPO can go to hell. Scrap the European Patent and let’s all go national! Phoaar!

  6. To Mister Dogood,
    I don’t know whether the F-word was actually used (and I will refrain from judging anybody as long as there has been no independent confirmation), but I respectfully disagree with you that, if it was used, it should have been ignored by the CSC. I would never use the F-word at work in any circumstance.
    Personally, I would not consider a statement including the F-word as a genuine and sincere invitation to negotiate with a will to find a compromise acceptable to both parties (but consultation does not require negotiation).
    Nevertheless, it is somewhat difficult to me to see a difference in meaning between “So you wake up and make agreements with me, or you never will for your life” and “Take it or leave it.”

    1. Well said.

      The tenure of the current President has seen the EPO increasingly adopt an approach where “consultation” is interpreted as merely requiring notifying affected parties of upcoming changes … often after (behind the scenes) the relevant decisions have already been taken. To outside observers, this gives the impression that the primary reason that the EPO conducts “consultations” is for the sake of appearances, and certainly NOT for the purpose of listening to (and making changes in view of) feedback from those being “consulted”.

      The AC appointed the current President for the express purpose of easing tensions in the relationship between the EPO and its staff. As evidenced by the outcome of the latest GCC meeting, the President has clearly failed in his mission. However, he has succeeded in (further) degrading the conditions of employment of EPO staff, and has deployed underhand tactics (namely commissioning a biased “financial study” containing ludicrous and unsupportable conclusions) to help achieve this objective. In this respect, by demonstrating to EPO staff that he does not “negotiate” with them in good faith, the President has actually succeeded in exacerbating social tensions.

      Of course, if the AC were sincere in wanting to ease social tensions, as opposed to milking the EPO cash cow as much as possible, it would not renew the President’s term of office. Let us see what message the AC’s decision on this point sends to EPO staff.

  7. EPO’s Management interference with this blog seeking to manipulate minds whilst introducing doubts would not have done better than what Dogood has produced here above.

    Such theory could fly if Mr. Campinos had not misbehaved on several occasions in the past which he has.

    The problem is not to remove the F—— word and try to cast the light on the CSC instead. The problem is the repeated use of the word F—— by the President of the EPO. The uncontrolled behavior of Mr. Campinos is shocking and unacceptable.

    You will observe like me that the EPO did not produce any denial since they know too well that all this is on tape. A sign of intelligence of Mr. Campinos could have been to present excuses but visibly this is not an option.

    That the administrative is brain dead is acquired but Mr. Campinos crosses a line also in terms of reputational risks after Mr. Battistelli’s carpet bombing for 8 years If the AC does not intervene to reestablish a few rules of the game then the second mandate may be “interesting”.

  8. There is a well-known pop song in which the chorus line goes “You say it best when you say nothing at all”. So it is, as we wait for the AC or the President’s office to comment on the President’s shocking lack of respect shown to EPO employees.

    Never apologise, never explain. That’s how the House of Windsor manages the public. The EPO also now, it seems.

    What message are we, the public, expected to draw from this silence? I suspect the silence is intentional, so that the public at last draws the intended conclusion, that the AC today is no more accountable to anything on Earth than was any hereditory monarch was in The Middle Ages.

  9. It is not really necessary for Mr Campinos to resign. I would not expect that Mr Campinos has ever envisaged one second that he should resign. He is the boss and by this mere function he is always right.

    The absence of any comments by the EPO on the foul language reported by the CSC says enough, and there is no reason to believe that he never used this foul language.

    It is simply for the AC not to renew his contract. The decision about renewal is most probably due at the next AC meeting. If the AC has any guts and looks correctly at the actual situation created by the present tenant it should look for a new incumbent.

    We should not forget that Mr Campinos has been appointed in order to restore social piece at the EPO. None of this has been achieved and the situation has even degraded much quicker than under his predecessor.

    Mr Campinos is playing havoc at the EPO, and he should not be allowed to continue. He is changing the whole substance of the EPC by way of secondary legislation. Nothing against amending the EPC in order for example to take into account new technical possibilities, but there are clear rules for amending the EPC, e.g. Art 172 and Art 164(2) which clearly limits the amendments of the Implementing Regulations which can be decided by the AC.

    I fear that the AC has not realised that it cannot simply do what is wished by the upper management. In last ten years, it is however what has happened. The AC has become a mere rubber stamping office of the desiderata of the upper management.

    After all, the EPC cannot be amended just at the whim of a single person or group of persons, even if the members of the BA. But this is what is actually happening.

    The EPO has never been conceived as an empty shell in which divisions and boards are not sitting together when deciding on the fate of an application, a patent or even on an opposition. I fail to see that Art 125 allows such a way of doing.

    The aim of the EPO is to grant valid patents, not to make savings at any rate, especially at the cost of its staff. One should not forget the EPO is not any longer an attractive employer as it used to be in the past. I do not wonder why.

    It is high time to stop the tail wagging the dog. It is thus to be hoped that the AC will now realise that it cannot continue like at present. By continuously milking the cow, the milk might even stop to flow.

  10. No boss of any company using the EPO to protect their inventions would use profanities like Mr.Campinos, because -manners apart – it does not work. So now Mr Campinos is not achieving the objective to restore social peace at the EPO….. I rest my case, surrender, you’re not up to it.

  11. I just do not understand why this blog meant mainly for law firms and attorneys discusses what happens in internal meetings of the EPO which do not relate to any patent law matter. Does the EPO discuss about meetings inside other companies or organisations? Maybe some one should explain the relevance of such an article for patent attorneys and its impact on IP matters, if any

    1. So do I understand that you are arguing that how (or whether) the EPO functions should be of no concern to its users?

      Increased social tensions at the EPO lead to strikes, which clearly affect the EPO’s users. Also, because the EPO is a public service organisation, the public has a right to know whether it is being managed in accordance with the law (and principles of good governance).

      Law firms are subject to strict rules / codes of conduct that are enforced by independent regulators. They are also subject to the jurisdiction of national courts when it comes to matters (such as employment regulations) that are governed by national laws. This contrasts sharply with the situation at the EPO, which is effectively a law unto itself, and which is “overseen” by an Administrative Council that has repeatedly shown itself to be asleep at the wheel. This makes it all the more important for the public to learn about any mismanagement at the EPO, as it is only public pressure (or shaming) that stands any chance of eliciting any positive changes.

      Is that enough for you? Nice to see that Mr Campinos has his defenders, though. It puts me in mind of those who defended Boris Johnson when he was found to have broken the law.

      1. Thank you for your explanation, I heard his name for the first time yesterday so I cannot say anything on the person Campino and the functioning of the EPO, I was just surfing on this site because I am studying on patents and IP law and was surprised to see an (very much commented on) article about an internal exchange between the chief of EPO and some internal Union members, I mean such issues happen continuously in all companies or organisations and I have never seen external professionals using their products or services being so interested in such internal matters. I understand the issue with the particular labour law applying there, policy makers and (I guess) politicians from all European countries must have decided so: I cannot imagine that the chief can change that even if he wants, but if there were such bad regulations why were EPO able to hire thousands of people (if I am not wrong) and keep them over the years? Even if I don’t know how high the staff rotation level is there. And we are talking about engineers and lawyers who shouldn’t have a problem in relocating. So I can still not fully understand the concerns over a ill-functioning patent releasing authority, also because if their services were so bad, considering the quite high fees that I read on the internet, patent applicants would stop using patent law firms for their business in Europe, and the published figures I read show actually the contrary. So what are exactly the fears of patent attorneys or inventors? And why are they so worried and indignant because of that one person who, as I read, rotates in any case every five years? There must be something else behind the scenes which I haven’t caught reading this blog

        1. Just because it might not affect you directly, ignoring immoral or unlawful behaviour by people in positions of power has never been a good idea:
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_they_came_

          The EPO has a monopoly over the granting of European (as opposed to national) patents. Looking elsewhere for such patents is therefore not an option. The best that can be hoped for is that the system for granting European patents is run in a reasonable way. This is one reason why people tend to get upset when this does not happen.

          There might be other reasons too. A belief in the rule of law, for example. Also, concern for fellow professionals who are suffering under an oppressive regime.

          If you are looking for some kind of ulterior motive, you will not find one.

  12. One might well argue that Mr Campinos “should” resign.
    Of course he “could”, but why “would” he?

    What is likely to happen to him if he does not?
    The biggest risk that he seems to be facing at the moment is that a notoriously supine AC might decide against an automatic renewal of his contract at its June meeting.

    And once again: the Council “could” decide not to reappoint him and start an election procedure with endless rounds of political horse-trading …
    But why “would” they ever be inclined to go down that arduous road when they can take the path of least resistance …

  13. And yet again the EPO announces a decision, taken without consultation, that degrades the service that the EPO provides to its users:
    https://www.epo.org/law-practice/legal-texts/official-journal/communications-from-the-boa/archive/20220519.html

    On this occasion, the situation is not so serious. Users will just need to go to the online Register (assuming that it is not experiencing issues or undergoing maintenance) to download copies of documents that the Boards of Appeal would previously have sent to the relevant parties. Nevertheless, the slow but certain grinding down of the level of “customer service” provided is gradually turning the EPO into something that is starting to resemble a self-service institution.

    Recent years have seen a decision of the Boards not to notify parties of last-minute changes to the location of oral proceedings. Then came the EPO’s decision not to accept (after 1 July 2022) ST.25 sequence listings for divisionals of pre-July 2022 applications … thereby shifting on to applicants all of the costs (and legal risks!) of converting listings from ST.25 to ST.26 format. On top of that, it is clear that, compared to two decades ago, examiners now have much less time (on average) to search and examine any given application.

    And yet there has been no decrease in the EPO’s fees. Quite the opposite. Which of course means that users are now paying more for a service that, in various ways, is inferior to what it used to be. No wonder that the EPO consistently makes a thumping “surplus” every year and is so awash with cash that it changed the rules to enable it to effectively play on the stock markets. (Which, by the way, is impossible to reconcile with the Article 42 EPC requirement for the budget of the EPO to be “balanced”!)

    It makes you wonder how bad things need to get before the EPO’s users stand up and demand the restoration of a proper level of service … and whether, even if this happens, the EPO’s response will be to simply raise a middle finger, safe in the knowledge that privileges, immunities and a lack of effective oversight will combine to allow the milking of the cash cow to continue uninterrupted.

  14. It should not be forgotten, that the internal review of the contested strike regulations, other strike related decisions and the social “democracy” rules took place during Campinos’ tenure. He decided to maintain them and openly defended them. The subsequent decisions of the ILOAT speak for themselves. This was his approach to establishing a social dialogue. There are quite a number of similar decisions awaiting judgment by the Tribunal. The best is yet to come.

Comments are closed.