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Irish patent judge must be reinstated in Munich job

Man accused of having Nazi memorabilia at work said president had conflict of interest

Patrick Corcoran was suspended pending an investigation into allegations that he made defamatory statements about the European Patent Organisation president Benoît Battistelli using a pseudonym.

An Irish judge at the European Patent Organisation (EPO) who was accused by his employers of bringing weapons and Nazi memorabilia to work has won a case against his suspension.

Patrick Corcoran is a judge on the EPO’s board of appeal in Munich, which is responsible for ruling on patent applications. In December 2014 he was suspended pending an investigation into allegations that he made defamatory statements about the EPO president Benoît Battistelli using a pseudonym.

Other allegations against Mr Corcoran included that he disclosed private aspects of EPO appeal decisions, that he had stored items in the workplace which qualify as weapons under German law and that he possessed “extremist material [including examples of Nazi memorabilia]”.

His suspension was later extended and he was put on half pay while the EPO administrative council decided whether to dismiss him or not.

‘Vague’ charges

The council went on to recommend his dismissal but the EPO’s enlarged board of appeal refused to sanction this, citing the “vague” nature of the charges and the fact the evidence was not clearly laid out.

Mr Corcoran made several complaints to the tribunal of the International Labour Organisation [ILO], a body which rules on employment disputes within UN organisations and other international bodies.

This week the ILO published two judgments relating to Mr Corcoran’s case. It largely sided with the judge before ordering that he be reinstated in his job immediately and that he be paid €35,000 to cover lost wages, legal costs and “moral damages”.

Mr Corcoran’s central complaint was the EPO president, Mr Battistelli, played a key role in the decision to suspend him and to later continue the suspension. He argued that Mr Battistelli was not a “neutral and disinterested party” because he was the subject of the alleged defamatory attacks.

‘Flawed opinion’

During one hearing relating to Mr Corcoran, Mr Battistelli provided an opinion to the administrative council that the judge’s suspension should continue.

Mr Corcoran argued this was a “manifestly flawed opinion, which was tainted with bias and which breached the principle of due process.

“The president had a personal interest in the matter, and thus should have recused himself before rendering such opinion on account of a real or apparent conflict of interest.”

According to documents disclosed to the ILO tribunal, the EPO’s internal investigative unit alleged Mr Corcoran had, using a pseudonym, made defamatory statements that Mr Battistelli had attempted to “buy votes” by hosting delegates.

It alleged Mr Corcoran also sent a letter to the deputy mayor of Saint-Germain-en-Laye in France, where the president was a town councillor, accusing Mr Battistelli of abuse of power at the EPO.

The tribunal accepted Mr Corcoran’s argument that Mr Battistelli should not have had a decision-making role in the suspension because he was the subject of the alleged defamation.

It said Mr Battistelli had a conflict of interest and said the administrative council erred in not making a ruling to this effect. It said the matter should have instead been handled by the EPO’s second most senior official.

Mr Corcoran had also asked the tribunal to rule on the lawfulness of the use of covert surveillance software, including keylogging software, by the EPO during its investigation into the anonymous defamatory statements.

He argued the use of such tactics broke German law. The tribunal declined to rule on this matter.