Although the lockdown in Europe was easing, FICPI met with the EPO virtually on 14 September 2020.

On 14 September 2020, FICPI President Julian Crump along with a number of other FICPI representatives met with the EPO’s leadership and senior managers virtually.

This was FICPI’s second virtual meeting with an IP5 office, following on from the meeting with the USPTO in May.   The EPO’s President, António Campinos, led an impressive EPO delegation including:

  • Steve Rowan, Vice President, Patent Granting Process 
  • Christoph Ernst, Vice President, Legal and International Affairs 
  • Gilles Requena, Chief International and Legal Officer 
  • Karin Seegert, Principal Director, Chief of Staff, President’s Office 
  • Niclas Morey, Principal Director, Quality, Business and User Services 
  • Peter Albrecht, Principal Director, Head of VP1 Office 
  • Telmo Vilela, Principal Director, Co-operation and Patent Academy 
  • Mihály Zoltán Ficsor, Principal Director, Legal Affairs 
  • Laura Smith-Hewitt, Principal Director, Internal Audit and Oversight a.i. 
  • John Beatty, Director, Patent Procedures Management 
  • Suzanne Herrera, Director, Operational Quality & Risk Management 
  • Carlo Pandolfi, Director, International Co-operation 
  • Heli Pihlajamaa, Director, Patent Law 
  • Michael Fröhlich, Director, European and International Legal Affairs, PCT 
  • Elvanda Mece, Country Coordinator, International Co-operation

FICPI’s delegation additionally included:

  • Roberto Pistolesi, Secretary General
  • Coleen Morrison, President of the Study and Work Committee 
  • Robert Watson, Vice President of CET (FICPI’s Study & Work Committee)
  • Kim Finnilä, CET Assistant Reporter General
  • Antonio Pizzoli, Chair of CET Group 4 (European Patents)
  • Sharon Crane, Chair of CET Group 5 (Biotechnology and Pharmaceuticals) 
  • Brett Slaney, Chair of CET Group 6 (Software, High-Tech, and Computer Related Issues)
  • Swarup Kumar, Chair of CET Group 7 (IP Enforcement and Alternate Dispute Resolution)
  • Lena Shen, Chair of CET Group 8 (Asian Issues)

As is typical, FICPI submitted a detailed set of questions and comments in advance of the meeting – in a change from the normal practice, the EPO provided written answers to these in advance of the meeting – these can be found here.

The meeting was accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation, which can be found here.

EPO’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic

President Campinos presented the EPO’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic as bringing an acceleration of the Office’s modernisation plans, such as in digitisation of their internal workflow – there is also a steady increase in the communications available via the digital Mailbox system.  At the peak of the pandemic, 90% of staff were working at home, which has dropped now to 80%.  The EPO plans to release a plan for the “new normal” shortly, on which they will welcome comments.

Timeliness figures

Vice-President Rowan discussed the latest timeliness figures, which were impressive for both search and examination.  The EPO is now monitoring the total time for examination, which is showing a decrease.  Progress was being made on the timelines in opposition until the advent of the pandemic – however, they hope to be able to improve on the numbers as hearings resume in greater number.

Use of videoconferencing in oral proceedings

Unsurprisingly, the use of videoconferencing in oral proceedings was a major focus of the meeting.  By the time of the meeting, 65 successful videoconference opposition oral proceedings had been held, with only two failures which occurred very early on!  The EPO think that if the restrictions on travel continue, videoconferences may become compulsory in opposition to avoid delays in justice (which can affect opponents and other third parties).  In response to a question about the ban on recording, the President commented that in his view, this was outdated.  It was also mentioned that ‘hybrid’ videoconferencing oral proceedings (where some parties are on site at the EPO and others are remote) are being investigated.

Broadening the European patent system

A more political issue discussed was the geographic expansion and the broadening of the European patent system in view of keeping a useful and qualified local profession.  We proffered FICPI’s global expertise in considering these issues further.

Rule 71(3) communications

The perennial issue of Rule 71(3) communications was raised – the EPO have been working to improve these (of which 150,000 are issued every year) and have removed the waiver to avoid the issues this was causing.  We were encouraged to raise issues when we come across them, so please do pass on problematic communications to the European Patent group (CET 4).  In a similar vein, we discussed the issue of exam reports with a 2 month deadline – the EPO have appreciated there is an issue with short deadlines being set in too many cases, and are working on training on this point.

FICPI’s view and involvement 

FICPI’s strong relationships with Offices around the world helps to ensure that the views of FICPI’s independent IP practitioners are represented, and that FICPI is included in discussions with key officials. Through its committee network, FICPI builds knowledge and ensures its members gain a wider perspective and can help influence key developments. 

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