A report published today explains how the EPO, our applicants and
the patent profession have successfully navigated a major cultural shift in the
conduct of oral proceedings in opposition – namely by videoconference (VICO). The
report summarises the considerable progress we have made together since May
2020, in terms of our legal framework, technical infrastructure, training and support
to users. Since January 2021 the consent of the parties to VICO has ceased to
be a limitation and the EPO has been working steadily to clear the backlog of
cases that built up last summer – hearing over 350 cases each month in 2021. The
Office is on track to return to a pre-pandemic state as regards the number and
timeliness of cases decided in opposition later next year. The experience of
Zoom as the preferred VICO platform has been positive, such that it will be
expanded in the coming weeks to encompass all oral proceedings, e.g. in
examination and before the Receiving Section and Legal Division too.
Feedback from the patent profession has been central to the success
of the pilot project, enabling the EPO to adapt and refine its approach so as
to maintain access to justice, improve efficiency and increase transparency.
One consequence of the move to VICO has been a more than tenfold increase in the
number of observers at public oral proceedings in opposition – because geography
is no longer a limiting factor. The transition to VICO was initially met with
considerable reluctance and scepticism a year ago, but the benefits in terms of
legal certainty, timeliness, accessibility and sustainability are now winning
over many members of the patent profession.
The report published today also explains the next steps in the
pilot project. It is a prelude to a user consultation to be conducted during the
autumn, the results from which will be analysed and used to prepare developments
for 2022. The Office awaits
the decision of the Enlarged Board of Appeal in case G 1/21 related to oral
proceedings by VICO following the public hearing on 2 July 2021 and will take
it into account when it is issued. Until then the
current measures, namely that oral proceedings are conducted exclusively via
VICO, are foreseen to continue until 31 January 2022. The EPO is maintaining
its prudent approach to social distancing to ensure the Office protects the
health of its staff and to mitigate transmission of the virus.