Friday

5th Mar 2021

Europe handing out patents like candy, strikers says

Employees at the European Patent Office (EPO) are striking to defend the quality of European patents, accusing the EPO of granting as many patents as they can for financial benefit while the patent-granting system suffers.

Last Thursday, the Staff Union of the European Patent Office, SUEPO, held a one-day strike and coached into Brussels some 300 staff members from the patent offices in Berlin, the Hague, Munich and Vienna to protest outside the Berlaymont building - the European Commission headquarters.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The workers accuse management, their administrative council, which is composed of representatives from national patent offices, of issuing the most patents they can for the sake of making more money.

"Since many of the national offices are financially dependent on the fees resulting from the work of the EPO, decisions taken by the EPO Administrative Council are influenced by the interests of the national patent offices," said the union in a statement explaining their actions, "and the desire for as many patents to be granted as possible."

"Decisions in favour of quantity damage the quality of the patents," the statement continued.

They argue that this is producing a kind of centrifugal force that is pushing a return to national as opposed to European based patenting processes. There are 34 members of the EPO, the 27 EU member states plus other European countries.

"In recent years, there has been a decentralising tendency from the EU office back to national offices," said one representative of the union, who did not wish to be named for fear of being fired, "which is the opposite of the principles of a European Patent Office, and the opposite of what is demanded by users: a centralised, coherent patent office for Europe."

"They are sending work back towards the national offices to maintain a justification for their own existence."

The workers rallied for a number of hours and delivering petitions to the British, French and German embassies in Brussels. They say that their concerns are not for better wages or conditions, but simply the principles of high-quality patenting. Rather than giving patent examiners the appropriate amount of time to investigate an application, they are encouraged to rush through the process.

The following day they met with European Commission officials to discuss their concerns

The action is an escalation of a brief downing of tools last June at the Munich headquarters of the EPO and a rally outside the Swiss Patent Office. The previous year, they had demanded more time to work on their assignments in order to deliver a quality project.

They have also sent a letter outlining their concerns to current president of the European Council, Nicolas Sarkozy, urgently requesting that the EU bodies "rethink the distribution of power in the EPO."

They are also hoping to develop closer contacts with the European Commission, which they feel is understanding of their position, and will be lobbying users of the system, including Business Europe - the trade association representing the largest corporations in Europe, and the European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (UAPME).

'Broader malaise'

Management representatives however rubbish the idea that there has been any decline in quality and accuse the workers of being unnecessarily worried about their jobs.

"The figures show that the number of patent refusals is actually increasing - a clear sign of increasing quality," Oswald Schroeder told EUobserver. "If we were just handing out patents like we didn't care, the number of refusals would surely be going down. In some sectors, the refusal rate is up to 90 percent."

Mr Schroeder said that over the last few years, applications have become much more complicated and voluminous, making investigating them more difficult for examiners.

He said that the staff had no reason to be concerned, as they have recently doubled the amount of time they allow to write a refusal (which takes more time than the issuing of a patent).

As to the workers' concerns about decentralisation and a return to a national-based system, Mr Schroeder said: "No examination work will ever be outsourced."

The employees have essentially worked themselves into a lather about nothing, he believes. "[The strike] is just part of a broader malaise against the behaviour of member states in the administrative council [the management board] - they're worried the national patent offices will take away their jobs."

12-month Future EU Conference is 'impossible', expert warns

The debate about the much-delayed Conference on the Future of Europe so far has been locked in endless institutional infighting over who should lead the event - lowering the expectations about what can be achieved in the coming months.

Future of Europe: Nearly half of citizens want reforms

European Parliament president David Sassoli called for the Conference on the Future of Europe "to start as soon as possible". Meanwhile, nearly half of EU citizens would like to see reforms to the bloc.

EU parliament snubs anti-corruption researchers

Transparency International carried out three separate studies on integrity, of the European Parliament, the European Commission, and the Council (representing member states). The European Parliament refused to cooperate.

Cyprus: a heavy caseload for new EU prosecutors office

The new European Public Prosecutor's office will become operational in March. It is tasked to carry out criminal fraud investigations of the EU budget. But of the 140 required European delegated prosecutors, only nine have so far set up office.

Portugal's EU presidency marks return of corporate sponsors

Last year's German EU presidency refused corporate sponsorships. But the new Portuguese presidency has decided they are needed and has signed three contracts. One of them is with one of Europe's largest paper companies, The Navigator Company.

MEPs chide Portugal and Council in EU prosecutor dispute

The Belgian and Bulgarian prosecutors who were appointed had also not been the experts' first choice. Belgian prosecutor Jean-Michel Verelst has challenged the council's decision at the European Court of Justice.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance
  2. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  3. CESIKlaus Heeger and Romain Wolff re-elected Secretary General and President of independent trade unions in Europe (CESI)
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersReport: The prevalence of men who use internet forums characterised by misogyny
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic climate debate on 17 November!

Latest News

  1. China and Russia abusing corona for geopolitics, Lithuania says
  2. Worries on Europe's infection surge, after six-week drop
  3. EU wants large firms to report on gender pay-gap or face fines
  4. EU Commission cannot hold Frontex to account
  5. Orbán leaves EPP group - the beginning of a long endgame
  6. 'Corporate due diligence'? - a reality check before EP votes
  7. Austrian ex-minister joins list of EU's pro-Kremlin lobbyists
  8. Internal Frontex probe to deliver final report this week

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us