Thursday, September 10, 2015

In the face of repression, EPO employees should quit their jobs to promote innovation in industry

Political initiatives to improve the terrible situation at the EPO appear to be "too little, too late." Now that the summer vacation season has ended, it's apparent that things keep getting (even) worse.

Skeptics of the EPO leadership's intentions with respect to "union recognition" have already been proven 100% right. Contrary to resolving conflicts with the staff union, president Battistelli (aka Blatterstelli) and his minions have only one objective with respect to SUEPO: total suppression. As you can read in this TechRights post, the EPO's Investigative Unit (which would be more appropriately named Stasi) scheduled an "interview" of the staff union's Munich chairwoman for today. Her name is actually no secret: Elizabeth Hardon. She's one of the signatories you find here (this post continues below the document):

15-09-07 SUEPO Flyer on Suicide by Florian Mueller

I have heard from EPO staff that Mrs. Hardon was demoted last year by personal decision of Mr. Battistelli, on a basis that my sources consider unfair. She may now even be fired.

The above PDF document, which actually contains a SUEPO flyer as well as correspondence between SUEPO and Mr. Battistelli, relates to a very sad incident: the fifth suicide of an EPO employee in 39 months. But in this regard I neither support Mr. Battistelli nor SUEPO. I agree with either one to a limited extent and mostly disagree with both.

Mr. Battistelli -- and this is the first time for me to agree with him and it may also be the last -- is absolutely right that it was not enough for SUEPO to wait for a limited period of time before it tried to gain political mileage out of the latest suicide. Should Mr. Battistelli's representation (which I don't doubt in this particular case) be correct that the widow didn't want anyone to talk about the personal circumstances of this tragic incident, then SUEPO should have respected that forever, not just for two weeks.

The part of Mr. Battistelli's letter that I find ridiculous is where he asks for a climate of trust for his reforms, some of which violate long-standing principles of European labor law.

Another problem that SUEPO has here is that even five suicides in 39 months (almost one tenth of a percent of the EPO's workforce) are too small a number to be statistically reliable. There are definitely serious issues at the EPO, but small statistical samples have too much variance. Five suicides can happen among thousands of EPO employees even for circumstances that have nothing to do with the social and human rights conflict at that organization. SUEPO has far stronger -- and ethically less debatable -- arguments to demand a change for the better.

Should those suicides have had anything to do with the social conflict at the EPO, those people would have died for the wrong reason. I'd like to quote the following from TechRights:

"Staff at the EPO needn't be suicidal or depression-leaning. Many employees — and examiners in particular — are highly qualified, often with Ph.D.-level degrees and many years of technical experience."

I'll take this one step further: EPO employees who are unhappy about the situation should try to find a better way to vote with their feet than taking to the streets of Munich (and other cities) to no avail. They should quit their jobs at the EPO and take jobs in the private economy. Engineering jobs, especially.

Dear EPO Employees: if you truly wish to promote innovation, the EPO is the wrong place to be. If you believe that this system -- broken beyond repair -- is good for innovation, you just believe and propagate the same lies that the EPO leadership you hate so much has been telling for a long time.

If you want to help Europe to be more innovative (let's face it: Europe has a major innovation problem), bring your education, your skills, your talents and your energy to the table where you can contribute to the creation of actual products. Wouldn't it be so much more rewarding for you to learn about customers using products you helped create than to grant patents, most of which won't be upheld in court (at least not in the form in which you grant them) when seriously challenged (see 1 and 2)? Apart from that, most of the patent applications you process aren't filed by European companies anyway.

I know that your net salaries at the EPO may not be immediately matched by private sector employers (though it may happen if you get promoted over time). You would have to accept an initial pay cut. But money should never be the only reason to go to work. For you, the risk-reward ratio is actually much better than for patent attorneys. Patent attorneys -- who make far more money on the patent applications you process than you do, as you know -- have to invest a lot more time and money in their education, and when they start to make serious money, the likelihood is next to zero that they could reach the same income level in an engineering capacity (they'd have to get very senior management positions at large corporations). Your situation is different.

For the overall economy, a bloated patent system with too many examiners and too many patent attorneys is a waste. It's a waste because Europe needs scientists and engineers to create true innovation.

Let me tell you about my own perspective, too. I've been fortunate to do some really interesting patent-related work for some time without ever having received formal training. Last year I founded an app development company and closed down my consulting firm. I've also reduced my patent-related blogging a lot, as you can see in the right column here. It's so much more enjoyable to create "real stuff" that people will use (I'll launch both games early next year) than to deal with discussions of what the state of the art was in 1997 or how a certain claim term should be interpreted. I don't want to be a hypocrite: I'm convinced I'll make far more money with my apps than I ever would have with consulting (and my consulting business was actually quite successful in all respects). But even if I knew that I was going to make only half as much money in app development, I would still prefer it by a wide margin.

It's self-delusionary for you to think that the EPO is the best place for you to work, or the best place for you to promote innovation. Start a new life. European industry needs you to build, for example, electric and self-driving cars before that market will be dominated by Silicon Valley companies. Your scientific knowledge, your overview of the state of the art, your experience in analyzing technologies, your ability to express yourselves in the three official languages of the EPO -- those assets are underutilized where you presently are.

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