LABOR DISPUTE

Daggers Drawn at European Patent Office

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Benoît Battistelli, the French president of the European Patent Office, is locked in a bitter staff dispute.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The European Patent Office, already accused of inefficiency, is now torn by conflict between its combative French president and some of its staff.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • The European Patent Office, headquartered in Munich with a staff of almost 7,000, is an international organization that examines and grants patents in Europe.
    • Benoît Battistelli took over as president in 2010, committed to improving organizational efficiency and cutting costs.
    • Some employees associated with the staff association SUENO have been dismissed, accused of intimidation and defamation but deny the charges.
  • Audio

    Audio

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The European Patent Office, also known as the EPO, is witnessing a power struggle between its tough-minded French president, Benoît Battistelli, and the employee organization SUEPO. The battle of wills is escalating in the run-up to Wednesday’s crisis session of the organization’s administrative council.

In an interview with Handelsblatt, Mr. Battistelli accused a senior SUEPO figure, Elizabeth Hardon, of running a campaign of defamation. “She intimidated elected staff representatives,” he said. “In some cases people were even threatened with violence.”

At the beginning of the year, Ms. Hardon, an EPO patent examiner, was fired at Mr. Battistelli’s insistence. Internal investigations, he said, had revealed severe breaches of EPO staff regulations. As part of the investigations, an Irish patent judge was also suspended from his position after two truncheons were discovered in his office, in addition to Nazi propaganda pamphlets. Ms. Hardon’s lawyer, who also represents the unnamed Irish judge, denies the accusations against both, calling them “invented allegations.”

The administrative council had asked Mr. Battistelli to defuse the conflict at the Patent Office, one of Europe’s most lavishly funded administrative organizations. But the president, who has been restructuring the office to cut runaway costs and speed up patent processing times, has refused to allow the trade union SUEPO to exercise a veto over his decisions. He insisted Ms. Hardon’s dismissal must stand.

SUEPO has responded by calling for a protest demonstration outside Wednesday’s council meeting in Munich.

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