These Guidelines give instructions about the practice and procedure to be followed in the various aspects of the examination of European applications and patents in accordance with the European Patent Convention and its Implementing Regulations (see section 5).
The search and examination practice and procedure as regards PCT applications, as far as the international phase is concerned, are not the subject of these Guidelines, but are dealt with in the PCT International Search and Preliminary Examination Guidelines. Whenever considered appropriate, options given in the latter Guidelines and the way they are dealt with by the European Patent Office when acting as Receiving Office, International Searching Authority or International Preliminary Examining Authority are the subject of separate notices published in the Official Journal of the EPO and on the EPO website. Please also consult the Guidelines for Search and Examination at the EPO as PCT Authority, which are also available on the EPO website. It is important to note that Art. 150 EPC states that in case of conflict between the PCT and the EPC, the provisions of the PCT prevail.
These Guidelines are addressed primarily to EPO staff but it is hoped that they will also be of assistance to the parties to the proceedings and patent practitioners, since the success of the European patent system depends on the good cooperation between the parties and their representatives on the one hand and the EPO on the other.
The Guidelines are intended to cover normal occurrences. They should therefore be considered only as general instructions. The application of the Guidelines to individual European patent applications or patents is the responsibility of the examining staff and they may depart from these instructions in exceptional cases. Nevertheless, as a general rule, parties can expect the EPO to act in accordance with the Guidelines until such time as they – or the relevant legal provisions – are amended. Notices concerning such amendments are published in the Official Journal of the EPO and on the EPO website.
It should be noted also that the Guidelines do not constitute legal provisions. For the ultimate authority on practice in the EPO, it is necessary to refer firstly to the European Patent Convention itself including the Implementing Regulations, the Protocol on the Interpretation of Article 69 EPC, the Protocol on Centralisation, the Protocol on Recognition, the Protocol on Privileges and Immunities and the Rules relating to Fees, and secondly to the interpretation put upon the EPC by the Boards of Appeal and the Enlarged Board of Appeal.
Where a decision or an opinion of the Enlarged Board of Appeal is referred to, this is to inform the reader that the practice described has been adopted to take account of the decision or opinion referred to. The same applies to decisions of the Legal or Technical Boards of Appeal.
As regards the search, the EPO also carries out searches for national patent applications from certain countries. The instructions in Part B apply in the main also to such searches.
These Guidelines do not deal with proceedings relating to unitary patent protection (Regulations (EU) No 1257/2012 and 1260/2012, OJ EPO 2013, 111 and OJ EPO 2013, 132).