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Anonymous v. European Patent Organisation

2009 October 28

Court: Netherlands Supreme Court

Date: October 23, 2009

LJN Number: BI9632

Case: The European Patent Organisation (EPO) is an intergovernmental organisation that was set up on 7 October 1977 on the basis of the European Patent Convention (EPC) signed in Munich in 1973. The European Patent Office, a body of the European Patent Organisation, entered into an agreement of employment with the plaintiff as a patent examiner.

The internal "Service Regulations for Permanent Employees" of the EPO are applicable to the employment contract of the plaintiff. These regulations include an incapacity benefit for employees unfit for work due to disability. Article 13 of the Convention refers disputes between the European Patent Organisation and the employees of the European Patent Officeincludes to the Administrative Tribunal of the International Labour Organization.

Due to repetitive strain injury, the plaintiff became totally occupationally disabled in 2002. He received a compensation of € 254.082,18 and was entitled a pension due to disability. The plaintiff held the EPO responsible for further damages resulting from his occupational disabilities. The EPO refused to accept responsibility, a decision which was upheld by the Internal Appeals Committee.

The plaintiff then applied to the District Court in The Hague suing for damages from the EPO. The EPO argued that the court in The Hague was not competent to hear the case, as article 13 of the European Patent Convention contains an internal legal procedure which has exclusive jurisdiction. The court of first instance, and the court of appeal, dismissed the case, ruling that the Convention provides a sufficiently fair and equitable judicial process. The courts did not agree with the plaintiff that the Convention does not offer a fair trial as meant in article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Held: The Netherlands Supreme Court ruled that the case is indeed related to the employment contract of the plaintiff with the EPO. Therefore, the EPO has rightfully argued that the internal legal procedure should have been followed and has rightfully invoked its immunity from jurisdiction.

The plaintiff also argued before the Supreme Court that the Administrative Tribunal of the EPO tends to dismiss requests for oral hearings of cases brought before the Tribunal. Since 1992, about 2.200 cases have been brought before the Tribunal, and only once did the Tribunal grant the request to organise an oral hearing. According to the plaintiff, this leads to an unfair trial, as article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights includes the right to a public hearing before an independent and impartial tribunal. The Netherlands Supreme Court upheld the decision of the Court of Appeal that the procedure before the Tribunal will only then be deemed an "unfair trial" when the Tribunal dismisses requests for oral hearings even when parties have given valid reasons for wanting an oral hearing. Whether this was the case had neither been argued by the plaintiff nor had it become evident that such was the case during the proceedings before the Dutch courts. Therefore, the decision of the Court of Appeal to dismiss the case on the basis of immunity of jurisdiction is upheld.

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