In June 2016 the Office tabled a proposal for a comprehensive structural reform of the Boards of Appeal, which was approved by a vast majority of the EPO member states. The adoption of the reform by the EPO's Administrative Council constituted a landmark decision for the EPO and the user community after two previous attempts of reform had failed in 1995 and 2004. The reform was accomplished within the current legal framework without requiring a revision of the European Patent Convention.
The Boards of Appeal are responsible for the examination of appeals from decisions of the Receiving Section, the Examining and Opposition Divisions, and the Legal Division of the EPO concerning European patent applications and European patents. To strengthen their role, the reform aims at increasing the managerial autonomy of the boards, the perception of their independence as well as their efficiency.
To this end, the Boards of Appeal have been reorganised as a separate unit within the EPO called the Boards of Appeal Unit. The new unit is managed by the President of the Boards of Appeal - a new position - who is hierarchically independent of the President of the Office and solely responsible to the Administrative Council. A new subsidiary body of the Administrative Council, the Boards of Appeal Committee, will act as a link between the Boards and the Administrative Council. Its primary role is to advise the President of the Boards of Appeal on managerial and organisational issues. The Committee is also responsible for adopting the Rules of Procedure of the Boards of Appeal and the Enlarged Board of Appeal.
In December 2016, the Administrative Council appointed Carl Josefsson as the first President of the Boards of Appeal, to take up his new function on 1 March 2017. The new President will also serve as the Chairman of the Enlarged Board of Appeal. In his capacity as President of the Boards of Appeal, he will bear full responsibility for the administration and management of the Boards of Appeal Unit and its staff following a delegation of powers from the President of the Office.
Concerns of users regarding timeliness, predictability and consistency of the appeal procedure were repeatedly voiced during the reform process. One issue is the high number of pending appeal proceedings which have been accrued over the past decade.
It will therefore be one of the primary tasks of the President to take the necessary measures to increase the efficiency of the Boards, in order to reduce the backlog in appeals, and safeguard legal certainty for users. The review of the appeal procedure will focus on a revision of the Rules of Procedure to enable proceedings with greater efficiency and consistency. The user community will be involved in this review process through user consultations. Overall, the reform will therefore not only enhance the independence of the Boards, but will also bring about significant improvements for users. It will further trigger a quality review process, ensuring clear and consistent decisions are delivered on time.
In order to maximise the positive effects of the perception of independence, the Boards of Appeal will also be physically separated from the administrative parts of the EPO. In December 2016, a lease agreement was signed for an office building in the Munich district of Haar. The move into the new building is scheduled for the second semester of 2017. The new location will offer ample space, with 240 workplaces and all the facilities for a court environment spread over 11 000 m2.