Videoconferencing Will be the Default Format for Most Oral Proceedings at the EPO
The EPO has announced that, from 1 January 2023, all oral proceedings before the opposition divisions will take place by videoconference by default, rather than in-person on the premises of the EPO.
This announcement does not substantially change the current practice of the EPO, as opposition division oral proceedings have been conducted by videoconference as default since 4 January 2021 as part of a ‘pilot project’ to test the suitability of this approach. Rather, the announcement comes as this pilot project was due to end on 31 December 2022, and indicates that opposition division oral proceedings by videoconference will become the standard practice at the EPO indefinitely.
This decision follows the publication of the EPO’s final report on the success of this pilot project, here. This includes the results of a ‘user satisfaction survey’ in which 89% of respondents rated oral proceedings by videoconference as ‘average’ (12%), ‘good’ (39%) or ‘very good’ (38%).
The announcement brings practice before the opposition divisions in line with the examining divisions, the Legal Division and the Receiving Section, where videoconferencing was already the default format for oral proceedings. Thus, the majority of oral proceedings at the EPO will now be held by videoconference as standard. The announcement does not apply to the Boards of Appeal, who continue to conduct oral proceedings both in-person and by videoconference on a case by case basis.
It will be possible for oral proceedings before the examining divisions, the opposition divisions, the Legal Division and the Receiving Section to be held in person at the EPO’s premises if: (a) the relevant division considers there are “serious reasons” not to use videoconferencing; or (b) it is requested by a party to proceedings. The relevant division may refuse such requests, in which case they will inform the parties of their reasons.
This development will be welcomed by many users of the European patent system and will bring the EPO into line with the approach already being taken by many national courts. In particular, videoconference oral proceedings allow the participation of overseas instructing attorneys, applicants and inventors at much lower cost than in-person proceedings.
For more information on videoconference oral proceedings at the EPO, see our briefing here. Further details of the present announcement can be found in the EPO’s decision here and in the accompanying notice here.