Fresh Euro Patent Office drama: King Battistelli fires union boss

EPO president ignores his own admin council

President of the European Patent Office Benoit Battistelli has fired a key member of his organization's staff union despite being explicitly told not to by the EPO's Administrative Council.

Laurent Prunier was secretary of SUEPO (Staff Union of the European Patent Office) and a member of its central staff committee, and is one of three union members that have spent over a year under investigation and going through disciplinary procedures because they resisted Battistelli's reform efforts.

Although some of those reforms were deemed necessary, the staff union's resistance to a number of questionable changes sparked an extraordinary effort by EPO management to silence critics, which has in turn resulted in numerous strikes, heavy media and political criticism, and repeated calls for Battistelli's resignation.

The decision to sack Prunier goes directly against a resolution by the EPO's Administrative Council – the only body that is able to fire Battistelli – back in March that demanded he stop all disciplinary proceedings until an independent review was carried out of allegations of mistreatment by EPO management.

Among the many accusations leveled at Battistelli and his team has been:

  • Covert surveillance of staff.
  • Aggressive and possibly illegal questioning by a special "investigative unit" set up by Battistelli.
  • Sham disciplinary hearings that have ignored official rules and procedures.
  • False allegations leaked to the media in order to undermine individuals.
  • Purposeful targeting of individuals in an effort to force them to resign.

The situation has grown so bad at the EPO that a staff survey gave Battistelli a zero per cent confidence rating. There have been a number of strikes protesting the targeting of union officials, and someone even cut the brakes on Battistelli's bike.

Despite having been repeatedly rebuked by his own admin council, efforts to have Battistelli fired before his term is up have repeatedly faltered and have seemingly bolstered his determination to force through reforms against almost universal criticism.

Most recently, an effort by Battistelli to rewrite the rules of the EPO's Appeals Board – itself thought to be in response to the board refusing to fire another critic of the president – was beaten back by the Admin Council at its meeting last month. At that same meeting, EPO staff pleaded with the council to adopt new guidelines being developed at another international organization in order to protect them from their boss.

As for Laurent Prunier's defenestration, Prunier has so far refused to comment out of concern that talking about the process would lead to further action against him by the EPO. Those who have some knowledge of the secretive proceedings, however, have decried the process as a farce. ®

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