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The EPO announced on 1 June 2016 that it will be seeking to streamline first instance opposition proceedings, with the aim of issuing a first instance decision on straightforward cases within 15 months from expiry of the opposition term. Further details of the changes, which will come into force on 1 July 2016, can be found here and here.
It would appear that the reduced time to a first instance decision is at least in part being achieved by limiting the time available for patentees to respond to the opposition. In particular, patentees are at present set a four-month term for replying to an opposition, with a two-month extension generally available upon request. Additional extensions above two months are often granted too. Under the new procedure in force from 1 July 2016, extensions to that initial four-month term will be available only “in exceptional cases with duly substantiated requests”. It would therefore seem advisable in cases where the four-month term for response to an opposition has already been set, or is set before 1 July 2016, for a two-month extension to be requested by patentees before 1 July 2016.
This does not affect the time taken for opposition appeals, which will continue to be available, and which are expected to add another three or four years to the total opposition procedure time.
If you have any questions about these changes, please contact Chris Milton or your usual J A Kemp contact.