The European Patent Office is the last dictatorship on Central European soil. Local police cannot allowed to enter the EPO's facilities without an invitation from the president. National court rulings cannot be enforced; compliance is voluntary. Employees and visitors are subjected to covert surveillance. And if employees are fired (or "suspended"), which just happened to several staff representative, they won't get their day in court for about ten years.
The EPO's leaders have a rather selective attitude toward the law. When it's about their wrongdoings, they want their organization to be a lawless, autocratic island that disrespects human rights. But when the rules of the world around the EPO come in handy, the leadership of the EPO tries to leverage them against those who dare to criticize it.
A Munich newspaper reported last week that the EPO even tried to get a staff union lawyer disbarred. And today World IP Review has reported on legal threats by the EPO against Dr. Roy Schestowitz, author of the TechRights blog (temporarily the link was broken, but at the time of publication, it worked). In July it became known that the EPO blocked access from its local network (which examiners use for prior art searches) to TechRights. I strongly criticized that move, and found it futfile. But the EPO leadership stops at nothing, and is now trying to silence its fiercest and most frequent critic in the entire blogosphere.
Dr. Schestowitz had mentioned this on Twitter, but he had not revealed any specifics before the WIPR article. You can find his commentary on the WIPR story--and information that purports to indicate a publisher has also been threatened--here.
TechRights has always been an opinionated, rather combative blog. Still, with almost 20,000 blog posts, Dr. Schestowitz had not received a legal letter before an EPO lawyer sent him one.
Many thousands of TechRights posts took aim at Microsoft, and typically not in diplomatic terms. But Microsoft, which has a huge and sophisticated legal department, never thought it prudent to send a cease-and-desist letter. Nor did any other company that was criticized, and there were many (though Microsoft used to bear the brunt of TechRights' criticism).
The EPO leadership must be very afraid of TechRights. It should be. Dr. Schestowitz is doing a first-rate job at keeping track of developments at and around the EPO. He doesn't miss a beat. I don't mean to say that I would always use the same terminology, but the EPO should respect the freedom of speech. If the EPO leadership wants more positive press coverage (and not just from its "media partners" like Les Échos), then it should tackle the underlying issues.
If the EPO ever sued Dr. Schestowitz, I would contribute money and lend an endorsement to a crowdfunding effort to finance his defense.
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