With just over a week until he hands over the OHIM presidency, rather than go quietly into the night Wubbo de Boer
has made clear his personal views on how the organisation should structure the renewal fee split and balance the budget. As expected, the interests of users were high on the agenda, with a warning to national offices that the receipt of OHIM funds needs to be justified.
Speaking at the annual MARQUES
conference, de Boer argued that OHIM had achieved, or was on the road to achieving, the key elements of the September 2008 compromise solution
(September agreement) – the fee reduction was introduced on May 1 2009, the bi-annual review of the offices financial situation has been implemented and the first project of the cooperation fund is now underway. However, the address became more interesting when de Boer outlined the approach he would personally take to the 50% split of CTM renewal fees with national offices, which was promised in a bid to drive through the September agreement.
Acknowledging that “the renewal split was the most controversial aspect for users”, he argued “there are issues that still need to be resolved. The distribution of European finance requires legislation – you can’t just spend EU money without it. However, there are challenges to achieving this. In proposing a law, the council will have to justify the transfer of money and that is not easy. You can’t just say ‘well, we had to bribe member states to get the other changes agreed to’. Then you have to ask how you distribute the funds between different countries and whether OHIM gets anything in return – or is it just a gift?”
On this question, de Boer argued that the equivalent of 50% of renewal fees should be distributed to member states in equal portions but that there should be a justification for the subsidy, with national offices obliged to cooperate in harmonisation projects. After this (and the completion of cooperation fund projects), he argued, the wallet should close – with no additional monies distributed from the OHIM budget to member states.
This hard line on finances was extended when looking at the question of what to do with the annual surplus, which de Boer predicts will be €25m in 2010 (compared to €52 in 2009). Noting that €100m should be received in application fees this year, he suggested “you could therefore reduce the application fee by 25% to bring back balance”. As an alternative he proposed a number of reductions that could be implemented – including reducing both application and renewal fees to €800.
The latter would have a significant impact on the value of national offices’ 50% cut, reinforcing de Boer’s stance that OHIM should serve the user and sending notice to national offices that they should not expect money for nothing. While incoming president Antonio Campinos will be tasked with carrying forward the various aspects of the September agreement, the presentation highlights some of the hurdles still to be overcome.
In many respects, the outspoken nature of the presentation should not come as a surprise. As a candid president de Boer has made both friends and enemies during his time at OHIM, and João Miranda de Sousa
, who worked closely with de Boer while acting as director of general affairs and external relations of OHIM, feels this was due to the defiant approach he has taken to the role: “He was very hands-on and just not the typical bureaucrat. In normal life you invariably look for compromises and optimal solutions – and I do understand that this type of political manoeuvring can be the only way when working in international diplomacy. But OHIM isn’t a ‘political’ organisation and de Boer has been responsible for managing a group of individuals paid to do a job – achieving improvements, not compromise, should be the only guiding principal. In that respect, if you compare today’s performance indicators with 10 years ago, the improvements are notable. You may not like his style, but the figures don’t lie and I felt privileged he chose me to be his assistant and to have had the opportunity to help him achieve his vision.”
While de Boer leaves OHIM with most of his aims achieved, there is plenty to keep Antonio Campinos busy once he takes up the hot seat.
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