CERN concern: Particle boffins join backlash against Euro Patent Office's King Battistelli

Physicists not happy with president firing staff

The European Organization for Nuclear Research, better known as CERN, has joined the list of organizations and media outlets calling for action against the president of the European Patent Office (EPO).

In its weekly staff bulletin, the particle physicists' take issue with Benoit Battistelli for targeting and firing staff. "Over the past three years this organization has been under the rule of a president who imposes productivity targets which hinders the quality of the work done by the intellectual property specialists," the bulletin notes.

It then accuses him of "degrading" the EPO with behavior "worthy of the 19th century" and endangering both the EPO itself and the European economy.

CERN is not the only organization to use such strong language. The European Public Service Union (EPSU), which represents more than eight million workers in Europe, has written [PDF] to a number of leading French, Dutch and German politicians this week asking them to "re-establish the rule of law" at the EPO citing "continuous threats to union representatives" by Battistelli, and violation of workers' rights.

In both cases, the ire is focused at Battistelli himself. The president recently fired a key staff member against the explicit wishes of the EPO's Administrative Council and continues to claim that the staff members he has fired or suspended were intimidating other employees: a claim roundly dismissed by the EPO's staff union.

Target practice

Battistelli has been accused of specifically targeting workers that criticize his reform proposals – a significant number of which serve to enhance his power over the organization – and of running sham disciplinary hearings under strict confidentiality rules.

"The EPO President systematically rejects the proposal of an external re-examination of the alleged misbehavior," states the EPSU letter. "The EPO President also rejects the request of suspending all disciplinary procedures until new internal rules are in place which would be in conformity with European rule-of-law standards."

The CERN article, written by its staff association, is titled A loose screw at the European Patent Office and notes that "the President of the EPO is now attacking the personnel representatives who have been denouncing the ever more rigid policies and practice of the Presidency."

Both the letter and article make a clear call to the Administrative Council to take action against Battistelli – something it has so far twice failed to do despite repeated calls by the EPO staff union and a series of strikes.

From the EPSU letter: "Time has come for the Member states of the EPO to act – the credibility of Europe as a whole is at stake, if fundamental rights and values expected from EU Member states (and accession candidates) are repeatedly and systematically breached right in the heart of Europe, at the EPO."

Bad press

It's not just staff associations and unions flagging the problem either. World Intellectual Property Review, which has been following the situation for some time, published an article last week in which it appeared to side with sacked former union secretary Laurent Prunier when he disputed the EPO's claim that his disciplinary proceedings had been done according to the book. Prunier has asked to be freed from confidentiality obligations so he can publish documents on his case.

That article follows another highly critical post by the editor of Intellectual Asset Magazine, Joff Wild, in which he urged the Administrative Council to "get a grip of this situation" and regretted having given the EPO's senior management the benefit of the doubt for so long. The Dutch parliament has scheduled a debate on the issue.

And the European press has joined in with Luxembourg-based newspaper Tageblatt running a critical piece on "King Battistelli" in which it highlighted the depth of anger against the president and noted that EPO staff live in fear of being targeted by Battistelli's special investigative unit.

It quoted one anonymous staffer as saying the EPO is "a ticking bomb that is likely to explode in the near future" if the 38 member states of the Administrative Council don't act. That council meets next in Munich on December 14 and 15. ®

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