Feeds

EPO staff strike over patent quality

Accuse office directors of profiteering

The Power of One Brief: Top reasons to choose HP BladeSystem

The European Patent Office (EPO) was hit last week by a strike by staff who were demanding not better pay and conditions but the freedom to help create better quality patents.

Around 250 staff took part in the strike and a march through Brussels demanding better governance of the EPO, according to the EPO staff union, SUEPO. A delegation met with officials from European Internal Markets Commissioner Charlie McCreevy's office the next day to outline their concerns.

The protesters claim that the EPO is forcing them to grant patents that are not of good enough quality so that the EPO can receive patent registration fees from them. They claim the result is a potentially disastrous lowering of patent quality.

The staff objections mirror those from opponents of the patent system in Europe and the US and opponents to any extension of patents to cover software. A common argument from those opponents is that examiners are not strict enough in policing patent quality.

EPO staff have argued that national patent offices, whose directors sit on the governing body of the EPO and which share 50 per cent of EPO revenues, are pressurising the organisation into generating patent revenues where no patents should be awarded.

"A conflict of interest has therefore existed since the founding of the EPO … the eagerness of the national patent offices to get more money out of the EPO has led the EPO management to squeeze more and more patent grants from the staff," said Sylvie Jacobs of the Union Syndicale Federale, to which SUEPO is affiliated at the Brussels march. "In the EPO, it ruins the professional pride of the examiners and other EPO staff who thus find it more and more difficult to meet the quality level imposed by patent law and expected by industry and the public."

Jacobs said that the consequences of the problems are severe.

"Lowering quality standards while increasing the EPO’s output, or sharing core tasks with less qualified national patent offices, have … disastrous effects," she said. "In a situation where many of the granted intellectual property monopoly rights worldwide would be unjustified, and the scope of those monopolies would be blurred, large companies would end up in dominant positions on markets through the sheer number of intellectual property rights and their economic power."

"These rights can easily be misused to put smaller entities under pressure and stifle rather than promote innovation. We have been warned by the evolution of the American patent system that has provoked much headache and dispute on the other side of the Atlantic. Ultimately, the European consumer will pay the bill for such a distortion of competition," she said.

Last week's action was not the first time that staff had expressed their opposition to the way the EPO is managed. They staged a demonstration and a strike last year over similar issues, and in 2006 held protests demanding enough time to make sure that patents were of a high enough quality.

The staff complaints were addressed to EPO president Alison Brimelow and its council president Roland Grossenbacher.

"Ms Brimelow, Mr Grossenbacher: stop decentralising EPO tasks, stop ruining the quality of granted patents, stop distorting the system away from the interests of real innovators towards the interests of the most aggressive international players and perhaps a few Anglophone patent attorneys, stop opposing the Lisbon agenda, stop frustrating the EPO staff," said Jacobs. "Become aware of your real task: serve the European consumers, universities, SMEs and all real innovators, gear the EPO to the EU, support and facilitate the introduction of the community patent, allow your staff to proudly serve Europe and its citizens."

Copyright © 2008, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications

More from The Register

next story
Arrr: Freetard-bothering Digital Economy Act tied up, thrown in the hold
Ministry of Fun confirms: Yes, we're busy doing nothing
ONE EMAIL costs mining company $300 MEEELION
Environmental activist walks free after hoax sent share price over a cliff
'Blow it up': Plods pop round for chat with Commonwealth Games tweeter
You'd better not be talking about the council's housing plans
Help yourself to anyone's photos FOR FREE, suggests UK.gov
Copyright law reforms will keep m'learned friends busy
Apple smacked with privacy sueball over Location Services
Class action launched on behalf of 100 million iPhone owners
UK government officially adopts Open Document Format
Microsoft insurgency fails, earns snarky remark from UK digital services head
You! Pirate! Stop pirating, or we shall admonish you politely. Repeatedly, if necessary
And we shall go about telling people you smell. No, not really
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable
Learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.