EPO continues oral proceedings by videoconference in examination and opposition during pendency of referral G 1/21

With its decision of 12 March
2021, a Technical Board of Appeal of the EPO has made a referral to the
Enlarged Board of Appeal seeking to clarify whether, in view of Article 116(1)
EPC, oral proceedings may be conducted by videoconference (VICO) without all
parties‘ consent. The referral concerns appeal proceedings, but also extends to
oral proceedings by VICO before examining and opposition divisions.

Following a careful weighing up
of the impact for legal certainty and access to justice, the President of the
EPO has decided that during pendency of the referral oral proceedings before
examining and opposition divisions will continue to be held by VICO as under
current practice, i.e. without requiring explicit agreement of the parties.

The conduct of oral proceedings
by VICO in examination and opposition was introduced in order to ensure the
functioning of the EPO in the context of COVID-19 with regard to its task to
take decisions on European patent applications and oppositions filed against
granted European patents which may then be appealed before the EPO’s
independent judiciary. Several hundreds of oral proceedings take place each
month in EPO examination and opposition proceedings. In 2020, before
introduction of VICO oral proceedings by default, the coronavirus pandemic had
a significant negative impact on legal certainty for parties and the public
since almost none of the scheduled oral proceedings could take place in
examination and opposition. Against this background, avoiding a further delay
in access to justice is a priority.

The Office is awaiting the
decision of the Enlarged Board of Appeal and will immediately implement its
findings in the conduct of oral proceedings before examining and opposition
divisions.