Are digital deliberation or breakout rooms available in Zoom for parties' internal discussions?

To further enhance the user experience, the EPO will, upon request, enable digital breakout rooms for individual parties to opposition proceedings. Requests for breakout rooms should be submitted in good time before the oral proceedings, preferably before the final date set under Rule 116 EPC and together with the contact details for the oral proceedings (to allow enough time for a test call with all participants of the requesting parties). For technical reasons, late-filed requests for breakout rooms submitted shortly before or during oral proceedings will generally be rejected. Requests should include the names and email addresses of all participants associated with the party as well as the name and phone number of the requester. Importantly, the email addresses need to be linked to configured Zoom accounts and each participant associated with the party must be signed in to their Zoom account linked to the email address provided before they connect to the oral proceedings videoconference.

The requests will be stored in the non-public part of the file.

On receipt of a request for a private breakout room for a party, the EPO will invite all the participants of the party to a test call. If the test call is successful, the Zoom meeting will be configured such that all the participants of the requesting party are automatically pre assigned to a private breakout room. If the test call fails or if the request is filed too late for a test call, the private breakout room cannot be assigned.

During breaks in the oral proceedings, all participants associated with the party will be transferred to a breakout room where they can confer in private. Other participants (except the division) and the public will stay in the main oral proceedings session. On resumption of the oral proceedings, the breakout room will be closed and the participants transferred back to the main oral proceedings session.

Note that as the EPO is the host of the Zoom meeting, members of the opposition division have full control over and access to the breakout rooms by default. Members of the division will, however, refrain from accessing the breakout rooms of the parties.

Since breakout rooms are provided as a courtesy service for parties, no rights can be derived from their non-availability during oral proceedings (e.g. due to technical problems). Moreover, the opposition division has the discretion to deactivate breakout rooms for parties if they impair the efficient conduct of the oral proceedings.

Note that breakout rooms can only be requested for individual parties to opposition proceedings. Requests for breakout rooms for more than one party will be declined.Virtual breakout rooms are not currently available for parties for oral proceedings in examination.