The Guidelines for Examination in the EPO (hereinafter "the Guidelines") have been restructured and revised. The new Guidelines will enter into force on 20 June 2012 and be published as a complete June 2012 edition.
The revised Guidelines are available online in the EPO's three official languages on the EPO website and can be downloaded free of charge. They will also be issued in paper form in September or October 2012.
Please note that the June 2012 edition of the Guidelines is the only valid official version, and supersedes the April 2010 edition as from 20 June 2012.
The Guidelines have been restructured and updated. In particular, parts of the Internal Instructions have been incorporated, as have all Legal Advice notices, as adapted to the EPC 2000 and recent case law of the EPO's boards of appeal.
The main body of the Guidelines comprises the following eight parts:
Part A: Guidelines for Formalities Examination
Part B: Guidelines for Search
Part C: Guidelines for Procedural Aspects of Substantive Examination
Part D: Guidelines for Opposition and Limitation/Revocation Procedures
Part E: Guidelines on General Procedural Matters
Part F: The European Patent Application
Part G: Patentability
Part H: Amendments and corrections
Parts A, B and C deal with the procedures for formalities examination, search and substantive examination, respectively. Part A thus covers the examination of formalities in grant and opposition proceedings. Part D deals with the procedural matters relevant at the opposition stage. Parts B, C and D no longer cover matters of substantive law (the requirements which the application or patent and the invention to which it relates must satisfy), but rather only the procedures to be followed at the search, examination and opposition stages, respectively. Substantive requirements are now dealt with in the new Parts F, G and H.
Part E deals with procedural matters relevant at more than one stage in the EPO procedure. Also, all the information concerning the Euro-PCT procedure has been brought together in this part (Chapter A-VII has been moved here). Part F concerns the requirements other than patentability which the application must meet, in particular unity of invention (Article 82), sufficiency of disclosure (Article 83), clarity (Article 84) and the right of priority (Articles 87 to 89). Part G covers the patentability requirements set out in Articles 52 to 57, in particular the exceptions to patentability (Articles 52(2) and 53), novelty (Article 54), inventive step (Article 56) and industrial application (Article 57). Part H deals with the requirements relating to amendments and corrections, in particular issues of admissibility (Rules 80 and 137) and compliance with Article 123(2) and (3) and Rules 139 and 140.
The restructured Guidelines are better for a number of reasons: first, they have been brought more into line with the PCT Guidelines, in that they clearly separate substantive issues and procedural aspects; second, they ensure greater transparency and legal certainty, as the inclusion of parts of the Internal Instructions will allow examiners to refer to an authoritative legal source when dealing with parties and will make public all EPO policies relating to procedural and substantive law; and third, they are clearer and more coherent, because all the relevant information, for example with regard to novelty, can now be found in one place, regardless of the procedural stage. Lastly, they will lead to greater efficiency and flexibility because the strict separation of substantive and procedural aspects makes it much easier to consult them and to insert information on any changes in procedure.
To make the revised Guidelines easier to use, a concordance table and a table of contents with references to the old version have also been published on the EPO website.