As of January 2021, parties will no longer have free choice on whether a hearing (oral proceedings) during examination or opposition is in person or via video conferencing before the European Patent Office (EPO). Video conferences will be the default.
12 months ago, we would have had to fight for a hearing (oral proceedings) to be held with the EPO by video conferencing. Today it is the norm. However, there is presently a requirement that during oppositions the parties all consent to video conferencing. This has led, in our experience, to situations where consent in some cases has been withheld in order to deliberately delay the case.
Use of video conferencing is still a "pilot" in the sense that if the world ever gets back to normal the EPO may change its mind. However, we expect it will stay the norm as it has many advantages to applicants.
According to a Decision of the President dated 10 November 2020, the pilot project for oral proceedings by video conference before Opposition Divisions is extended to run until 15 September 2021. The Decision states that oral proceedings before Opposition Divisions will, from 4 January 2021, be held by video conference. Consent of the parties is no longer required. Whilst oral proceedings may still be held on the EPO premises, an accompanying Notice from the EPO makes clear that grant of any request for this will require exceptional circumstances. Examples given include accessibility needs of the representative or the need for parties to be able physically to touch an object relevant to the proceedings.
Williams Powell has worked with the EPO on many projects including this one and has been successfully using video conference technology where appropriate for hearings even before COVID. Save for an instance where one of our partners' dogs joined a hearing, video conference hearings for us have been smooth and uneventful. We are achieving our normal (high) success rates at hearings despite the screen between us and examiners. We welcome the opportunity to take advantage of these new procedures to advance our clients' cases.
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