The EPO expands its use of videoconferencing as a way of conducting oral proceedings
As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to hold a tight grip on Europe, the EPO is expanding its use of videoconferencing (VICO) as a way of conducting oral proceedings.
As of 1 April 2020, oral proceedings before examining divisions have, as a rule, been held via videoconference, and an EPO pilot project has been in place since April 2020 for conducting oral proceedings before opposition divisions by means of VICO. Under the provisions of the pilot project, the opposition divisions have until now had the discretionary powers to decide to hold oral proceedings via VICO, subject to the agreement of all parties.
Pursuant to a Decision of the President of the EPO dated 10 November 2020, the pilot project has been extended until 15 September 2021, and the use of VICO for oral proceedings in opposition cases will become mandatory as of January 2021, except if there are serious reasons against holding the oral proceedings by videoconference. Parties, their representatives and accompanying persons may connect to the videoconference from different locations, and members of the public can follow oral proceedings remotely. If technical problems preventing the oral proceedings from being conducted cannot be overcome, new summons to oral proceedings will be issued.
Following a separate Notice from the EPO dated 10 November 2020, requests for oral proceedings on the premises of the EPO must be reasoned, and such requests must be filed as early as possible. Reasons that may justify the holding of oral proceedings at the premises of the EPO include, in particular, reasons related to the nature and subject matter of the proceedings, e.g. where they involve the demonstration of an object where the haptic features are essential. “Sweeping objections” against the reliability or availability of videoconferencing equipment do, as a rule, not qualify as serious reasons.
As regards oral proceedings in appeal, new Article 15a of the Rules of Procedure of the Boards of Appeal has been proposed which is expected to enter into force on 1 April 2021. According to the proposed new provision, the Board may, of its own motion or upon request by a party, decide to hold oral proceedings by videoconference. Where oral proceedings are scheduled to be held in person, the Chair may allow a party, representative or accompanying person to attend by videoconference.