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March 02, 2010

Fourth time lucky for EPO president

Benoît Battistelli, director general of the French National Institute of Industrial Property, has been elected president of the European Patent Office.

The French civil servant achieved a required three-quarters majority on 1 March, in the EPO’s fourth attempt to elect a successor for Alison Brimelow, who is to leave the organisation in July. Three previous attempts in October, December and February failed to produce a majority for one of the three candidates.

The election process kept European researchers and IP consultants on their toes as the EPO stoically refused to change its election process even though it became clear after the second attempt that no candidate achieved clear majority. The required three-quarter threshold, high by any election standard, was out of reach for the prospective presidents. 

The EPO could have greatly sped up the process by simply dropping the candidate with the least support after each funding round. But the organisation's administrative council would not hear of it and stoically stuck to protocol, even after Jesper Kongstad, director general of the Danish Patent and Trademark Office, pulled out after the December vote.

In the eyes of the public, the four voting rounds were a tremendous waste of time and money, especially since the fourth round required a crisis meeting in Munich, which over 30 administrative council members had to attend. But there is hope that Battistelli, who was previously tipped to become the head of the World Intellectual Property Organization, can turn the boat around and push the EPO from being the laughing stock of Europe to becoming a serious player in EU and international patenting law. Strong leadership is required - not least because the EPO is planning to kick-start negotiations on the Community Patent this year, which have been in total deadlock since 2004.

Bastistelli will start his five-year term at the EPO on 1 July.

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