Right to oral proceedings even after a Rule 71(3) EPC communication

The board in T 556/95 (OJ 1997, 205) held that the discretion of an examining division to allow amendments up to the decision to grant the patent did not mean that that department had discretion to refuse a request for oral proceedings dealing with such amendments. The examining division had to have regard to Art. 116(1) EPC 1973 when exercising its discretion under R. 86(3) EPC 1973 in case of amendments requested after the issue of a communication under R. 51(6) EPC 1973 (equivalent in substance to R. 71(3) EPC). The Enlarged Board of Appeal - which in G 7/93 (OJ 1994, 775) had given some guidance as to how an examining division should exercise such discretion - could not limit the application of Art. 116(1) EPC 1973 by means of such guidance.

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