EPO Strike

On Thursday, 18 September 2008, staff members of the European Patent Office (EPO) demonstrated in Brussels for a reform of its supervisory board. Set up 30 years ago to stimulate European innovation and economy, the EPO is the authority in charge of granting patents at the European level.

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Unsatisfied with the governance of its Administrative Council (AC), the Staff Union of the European Patent Office (SUEPO/USOEB ) called for a strike at all EPO sites while a delegation of around 250 staff members from Munich, Den Hague, Berlin and Vienna were demonstrating in Brussels (see pictures).
Following Suepo/USOEB, EPO staff members effectively ceased their activities at all four sites of employment.
In Brussels, the Administrative Council headed by Alison Brimelow, gathered on Thursday in order to think about a "strategic renewal" of the European Patent Office. The Union Syndicale Fédérale (USF), the trade union of the European public service, associated itself to the strike. USF claimed that the Administrative Council, largely composed of representatives of the National Patent Offices, "has consistently interfered with the efficient, centralised European patent system".

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The major issues at stake were the Administrative Council pushing for increased decentralisation of patenting in favour of National patent offices, increased pressure on patent examiners to favour quantity of granted patents rather than quality and questions about financial difficulties of the EPO with which many patent examiners disagree.

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The demonstration started of at Square Frère Orban and headed to the seat of the European Commission at the Berlaymont. Petitions were dropped at the German and British embassies. A delegation of SUEPO was then invited to discuss with members of the European Commission.

Concerning software patents, patent examiners didn't feel qualified to speak about that issue. One examiner told us that the EPO received more than 250.000 patent applications a year so they are not able to know them all. Another patent examiner confessed that most of them were against software patents but as civil servants they were not allowed to speak out publicly about their concerns.

In an open letter to the staff, Alison Brimelow considered the strike as "destructive behaviour" at a time "when the integrity of the patent system as a whole is being questioned" and will only lead to bring "the EPO and its staff into disrepute".

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