16 May 2011

EPO Advertises Commercial Products of its Media Partners by Email (updated)

Waking up in San Francisco where I am for the INTA Annual Meeting, I found a surprising e-mail from european-inventor@epo.org in my inbox.

It says that the EPO's Communications Director Oswald Schröder is offering a free three-months subscription of Financial Times Deutschland as part of a cooperation with the daily financial newspaper in the course of the European Inventors Award.
The original German wording of that email is as follows:
Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren,

wir freuen uns, Ihnen im Rahmen einer Medienkooperation zum European Inventor Award 2011 mit der Financial Times Deutschland ein kostenloses Abonnement anbieten zu können.

Sie erhalten die FTD drei Monate gratis. Im Anschluss endet die Belieferung automatisch.

Unter folgendem Link können Sie in wenigen Schritten das Abonnement abschließen. Bitte beachten Sie, dass das Kontingent begrenzt ist. http://www.ftd.de/inventoraward

Best regards / Mit freundlichen Grüßen / Sincères salutations

Oswald Schröder
Principal Director
PD 0.8 I Communication I Spokesperson
European Patent Office
Landsberger Str. 187 | 80687 Munich | Germany
Tel. +49 (0)89 2399 1800
Fax +49(0)89 23991802
When following the provided link, you are directed to a subscription form hosted by Gruner+Jahr GmbH, the largest printing and publishing firm in Europe, informing under the EPO logo that "on behalf of the European Patent Office you receive Financial Times Deutschland free for three months".

It comes as a surprise, that the EPO is advertising products of its media partners by direct emails from the Principal Director Communications. It appears that the EPO has provided its professional address pool for commercial advertisements of its media partner. If this really is the case, I wonder which address database they are using and whether I previously have (accidentally) agreed on receiving commercial advertisements from the EPO.

Personally, I do not at all appreciate such emails, especially not from a non-profit IP organisation funded by applicants fees. Apparently, the EPO's address pools (professional representatives, newsletter subscribers, online service users) are a valuable source for commercial firms like Gruner+Jahr. However, I would prefer if the EPO would better distinguish between its professional contacts and commercial interests and follow established data protection standards as, e.g., specified under section 13 (Data Protection) of the "Terms and conditions of use for the website of the European Patent Office", reading
13.2. Personal data may not be recorded or saved without the user's express consent. By completing any data collection form on the Website, the user expressly agrees to the storage and processing of the data entered.  All data provided by the user [...] will be treated as confidential [...]. In particular, personal data will not be passed on to third parties or published or made available for general access without the user's express agreement [...]. 
Update (May 18, 2011): I just received via email a "mea-culpa" from Mr Schröder saying that he should have better checked the FTD email campaign of his team beforehand - which apparently is true - and that the EPO has not provided any data to third parties. Thank you Mr Schröder for your clarifying response.