In specific cases, parties to proceedings before the EPO may have an interest in enquiring about the progress of the file and thus obtaining information on when the next Office action is to be expected. A specific procedure for enquiries is available to all parties to proceedings before the EPO's departments of first instance, and applies to enquiries filed on or after 1 November 2016 (see the notice from the EPO dated 2 August 2016, OJ EPO 2016, A66).
Under this procedure, an enquiry is processed and replied to only if it is filed online using EPO Form 1012. It may be submitted for only one application or patent at a time. The EPO will promptly issue an acknowledgement of receipt. Both the enquiries and the replies from the EPO form integral parts of the file and, as such, are open to file inspection.
Specific parameters may have an impact on the handling time for enquiries. For example, the non-payment of the renewal fee by the due date under Rule 51(1) may delay the EPO's handling of an enquiry.
In general, the EPO will reply to enquiries by indicating the period within which the next Office action may be expected, taking into account the workload in the technical area concerned and the internal deadline for the completion of the pending action.
Nevertheless, in the following cases an enquiry will automatically cause the EPO to issue the next action within one month from receipt of the enquiry:
– where the extended/partial European search report in respect of European patent applications filed on or after 1 June 2014 (including international applications entering the European phase where the EPO did not act as (S)ISA) has not been issued within six months from the filing date or from expiry of the period under Rule 161(2); or
– where an Office action in respect of an application which is being processed under the PACE programme or for which a previous enquiry has been made has not been performed within the committed period;
and within six months from receipt of the enquiry:
– where the extended/partial European search report in respect of European patent applications (including PCT applications entering the European phase where the EPO did not act as (S)ISA) filed before 1 June 2014 and which do claim priority (second filings) has not been issued.
Unlike the PACE programme, the filing of enquiries does not imply a general acceleration of the prosecution of European patent applications. Prosecution of the application can be accelerated by separately requesting application of the PACE programme (see E‑VIII, 4).