Thursday, June 25, 2015

1,000 EPO employees took to the streets of Munich to protest hidden surveillance, other violations

About two months after I expressed the opinion that potential union recognition by the European Patent Office (after some 40 years of existence) would be insufficient to solve the social conflict there, it turns out that things have not only failed to improve but actually deterioriated. And president "Blatterstelli"'s days may already be numbered because even the government of his own country appears ready to sack him anytime.

Yesterday, the Staff Union of the European Patent Office (SUEPO) held a demonstration in front of the EPO's main building in Munich. While there have already been various other SUEPO demonstrations in Munich, a couple of which I reported on, yesterday's protest had a new (though not exclusive) focus: surveillance by means of hidden cameras and keyloggers. Participants in the demonstration carried signs showing surveillance cameras:

It appears credible to me that, as the organizers claimed, approximately 1,000 EPO employees participated -- a fairly high percentage of all Munich-based EPO staff. On the next three pictures (this post continues below them) you can see parts of the crowd:

SUEPO's message to the EPO's leadership, particularly the self-serving Administrative Council (which bears the ultimate responsibility for the whole mess), is loud and clear: EPO employees want to see actions, not words. Improvement, not promises. And this has to start with at least a modicum of respect for fundamental human rights, no matter how hard that may be for the members of the Administrative Council, the president and the vice presidents of the EPO.

In April it was already remarkable when a Munich-based Dutch diplomat addressed protesters and expressed concern over bad press. At the same demonstration it was also mentioned that Mr. Battistelli threatened to resign. His resignation may actually be closer than ever now. At a recent EPO event in Paris, French innovation minister Axelle LeMaire said (starting at 109:40 in this official video recording):

"L'innovation c'est un impératif, un impératif économique. Et ce qui est vrai pour la technologie, l'est aussi pour l'innovation publique, les modes de gouvernance, l'innovation sociale. Et à ce titre, même si ce n'est pas l'objet de notre rencontre ce matin, le gouvernement français connaît les difficultés sociales qui s'expriment au sein de l'Office Européen des Brevets et à ce sujet, l'office a un devoir d'exemplarité, de transparence absolue dans le respect des droits des agents qui y travaillent."

My unofficial translation:

"Innovation is imperative, imperative for the economy. And what is true for technology is also true for public innovation, meaning governance structures and social innovation. And while we are on this subject, though this is a departure from the subject of this event here, the French government is aware of the social issues at the EPO and, in this regard, the EPO has a duty of being exemplary, a duty of absolute transparency with respect to the rights of the people who work there."

It's really unusual in two regards. One, this speech was given at the European Inventor Award ceremony, an event at which the EPO wanted to celebrate itself. I consider that event a sad thing. In my opinion, a patent office that promotes in any way (by this I also mean the USPTO with its Steve Jobs patents exhibition) patents that are or could still be used in litigation miserably fails to be neutral and its leadership should be replaced. But for the EPO's leadership, that event is meant to be a day of joy and self-aggrandizement. The fact that a politician would touch on the delicate issue of the EPO labor conflict and human rights issues on such an occasion gives those remarks about ten times more weight than if they had been made in daily business. Two, Mr. Battistelli is French and the national governments of officials of international organizations are usually the last ones to withdraw their support.

If you'd like to be updated on the smartphone patent disputes and other intellectual property matters I cover, please subscribe to my RSS feed (in the right-hand column) and/or follow me on Twitter @FOSSpatents and Google+.

Share with other professionals via LinkedIn: