Given the current circumstances with a global pandemic that seems to have no end, the EPO has tried to adapt its modus operandi and already in April 2020 decided that all oral proceedings with the Examination Division would be held by videoconference, unless there were compelling reasons not to do so. Until then the possibility existed, but it was rarely used, mainly in complex cases.
Recently (on 10 November 2020), the EPO issued a communication indicating that as of 4 January 2021, all oral proceedings before the Examination and Opposition Divisions would be held by videoconference and, as already established in April 2020, such oral proceedings by videoconference could only be postponed for compelling reasons. If such reasons were indeed justified by one of the parties involved, the oral proceedings could be postponed until after 15 September 2021.
The EPO Boards of Appeal have also held some oral proceedings by videoconference during 2020 with the agreement of all parties involved. However, given the present situation, they have decided to go one step further and intend to amend the procedural rules to add a new article 15a that would enable oral proceedings by videoconference without agreement of all parties.
In line with the way we work nowadays, moving from the concept of “office work” to “teleworking”, the EPO has taken a step forward by implementing a way of working that may favour applicants who live far away from the places where oral proceedings are held. As in the case of “teleworking”, only a year ago videoconferencing was quite exceptional and personal attendance was always preferred. Now, with the new system, many local applicants will save on travel expenses and time away from home for the preparation of oral proceedings and will be able to be present, if required, which was often avoided in order to save costs.
Article by Rafael Moreno.