In view of the Covid-19 coronavirus emergency, the EPO has made some changes to its procedures. Oral proceedings before examining divisions are to be held by videoconference, while oral proceedings before opposition divisions are either postponed or to be held by videoconference.

1.     Compulsory videoconferencing

According to a decision of the EPO President of 1 April 2020, oral proceedings before examining divisions are to be held by videoconference. Moreover, due to the coronavirus emergency, oral proceedings before opposition divisions are either postponed or held by means of videoconferencing, when all parties agree.

It worth noting that, until now, videoconferences have never been used in opposition or appeal oral proceedings, which are public and may have a relatively high number of participants.

The legal and technical aspects of these “virtual hearings” at the EPO were discussed on 31 March 2020 during a SACEPO-WPR meeting which was attended by Antonio Pizzoli, Chair of CET Group 4 (FICPI’s Study & Work Committee on European Patents). For the first time this meeting was held, successfully, by videoconference, with around 16 participants connected from different locations in Europe. Also, the messaging and screen sharing functions were put to effective use.

The main issues of videoconferencing seem to be the difficulty in perceiving the body language of the counterparts and the need for interrupting and rescheduling oral proceedings if the connection with one party is lost (what if someone “pulls the plug” on purpose?).

Thus, FICPI CET 4 members believe that, at least for opposition and appeal cases, oral proceedings at the EPO should be held by videoconference only when feasible and only with the consent of all participants, without compulsion by the EPO.

Public video conferences may be streamed live from dedicated rooms at the EPO and/or from the EPO website, like other European courts (e.g. the European Court of Human Rights) already do.

2.     EPO Mailbox

In coronavirus times, an issue affecting remote working is the difficulty of collecting EPO communications sent by post. To receive these communications in an electronic format (PDF), the EPO offers a Mailbox accessible only with a smart card which is not always within easy access and precludes the use of smartphones and tablets.

Moreover, even if a Mailbox is active, the EPO still sends some communications by post relating to opposition and appeal proceedings.

Due to these two issues, during the consultations held in 2019 on the EPO Strategic Plan 2023, FICPI asked the EPO to:

  • Send all kinds of communications to any active Mailbox, and
  • Implement an option to forward communications from a Mailbox to email addresses chosen by the recipient.

It is thus hoped that these two measures are adopted as soon as possible and have priority over the new electronic tools announced by the EPO.

FICPI’s view and involvement

FICPI’s worldwide membership and strong shared interest driven through committees such as the Study & Work Committee on European Patents ensures insights from the FICPI community can be passed to other members and that FICPI can work with bodies such as the EPO to promote common solutions and advocacy for private practice. 

Next steps