As a result of COVID-19, many opposition Division oral proceedings have been postponed. In response, the European patent office (EPO) has announced details of a pilot project for Opposition Division oral proceedings to be held by videoconference.

This follows the EPO’s recent decision to conduct almost all Examining Division Oral Proceedings in the same way. In contrast to Examining Division proceedings, Opposition Division proceedings involve at least two parties (patentee and opponent) and because of this, the practicalities of conducting Opposition Division oral proceedings by video conference are greater. Nevertheless, although this pilot is clearly a response to the disruption caused by COVID-19, if successful the pilot may lead to more Opposition Division oral proceedings being held this way even after the disruption caused by COVID-19 is over.

The pilot project will extend to all oral proceedings before Opposition Divisions and will run until 30 April 2021. However, oral proceedings will only be held by videoconference at the discretion of the Opposition Division and then only if all parties agree. It is therefore possible for one party to prevent oral proceedings by video conference by declining to take part in the pilot. Our attorneys are already receiving communications (most commonly by email) from the EPO inviting us to participate in the pilot on individual cases.

Key features of the pilot include:

  • The pilot allows the members of the Opposition Division to connect to the oral proceedings remotely from different locations. The parties will be informed if this is this case
  • Likewise, the Opposition Division, upon request, may allow the parties, their representatives and any persons accompanying the parties or representatives to connect to the video conference from different locations. If the number of participants may impair the efficient running of the oral proceedings, the Opposition may decline connections from multiple locations
  • Arrangements can be made for members of the public to connect to the oral proceedings
  • Documents submitted during oral proceedings are submitted by electronic means and at the same time distributed to all the parties
  • The pilot also includes an understanding that if any party experiences technical problems connecting to the oral proceedings (including during the oral proceedings), the Opposition Division will issue a new summons to oral proceedings
  • Oral proceedings involving the taking of evidence (Rule 117 of the European Patent Convention) cannot be held by video conference.

If this affects you and you would like to discuss what options you have, one of our attorneys would be happy to talk to you. We will monitor developments and report accordingly.