29 July 2020
In the light of the developments in the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the Boards of Appeal have reassessed some of their recently introduced measures for the arrangement and conduct of oral proceedings.
Please note that these measures differ from those decided by the President of the European Patent Office for oral proceedings before examination and opposition divisions.
The recently introduced practice of contacting parties to enquire whether they are able to attend oral proceedings will be discontinued. If parties cannot attend oral proceedings for which they have been summoned, they will now have to request a change of date (see Article 15(2) RPBA 2020).
Owing to the need for physical distancing, only a limited number of suitable rooms are available on the Board of Appeal premises in Haar and therefore some oral proceedings may have to be held in the Isar building in Munich instead. Similarly, some oral proceedings which have already been scheduled to take place on the Haar premises will be moved to the Isar building.
In addition, if necessary to ensure that the rules on minimum physical distancing can be respected, the starting times of oral proceedings may be staggered (9.00, 9.30, 10.00 hrs, etc.).
As a general rule, parties will not be sent a communication informing them of a change of venue or starting time. As such changes may take place at short notice, it is up to the parties to consult the online calendar approximately three days before their oral proceedings to check whether they will take place on the Haar premises or in the Isar building and when exactly they are scheduled to start.
Owing again to the need for physical distancing, parties are asked to consider whether all representatives and accompanying persons need to attend. Attendance is generally restricted to a maximum of two people per party. Parties wishing to attend with more than two people should submit a reasoned request to that effect in advance of the oral proceedings. It will be for the board to decide on their request.
Parties and representatives wishing to enter the buildings must complete a simple self-declaration form, which they should do in advance of their arrival. For the third statement in the form, please refer to the regularly updated list of risk areas on the Robert Kochinstitut (RKI) website. Any person not confirming one of the statements will be denied access to both the Haar premises and the Isar building. The competent board will be informed accordingly and will then decide whether the oral proceedings can be held without that person or whether they will need to be postponed.
It is possible for members of the public to attend oral proceedings. However, in view of the current circumstances, only limited places are available. Those interested in attending oral proceedings are therefore encouraged to announce this well in advance by email to email@example.com. They will be required to complete the same self-declaration form as parties and representatives and will likewise be denied access to the buildings if they don't confirm one of the statements. For the third statement in the form, please refer to the regularly updated list of risk areas on the Robert Kochinstitut (RKI) website.
Oral proceedings before the Boards of Appeal can now also be conducted using videoconferencing (VICO) technology. They will be conducted by VICO only if the parties concerned agree, and those parties will be sent a communication about this in advance. Oral proceedings to be conducted by VICO are also listed in the oral proceedings calendar.
Members of the public wishing to follow oral proceedings conducted by VICO may do so in a dedicated room on the premises in Haar. In view of the current circumstances, however, only limited places will be available. It is not permitted to make photographic images or sound recordings or to retransmit any part of the oral proceedings. As is the case generally for visitors to the Haar premises, members of the public wishing to attend oral proceedings conducted by VICO will be required to complete a self-declaration form (for the third statement in the form, please refer to the regularly updated list of risk areas on the Robert Kochinstitut (RKI) website), which they should do in advance of their arrival, and are encouraged to announce their plans to attend well in advance.
Strict hygiene measures are in place to ensure that oral proceedings are held in optimum conditions. These measures include, in particular, rules on minimum physical distancing and the requirement to wear a face mask on the way to the oral proceedings room. Boards may also require the use of face masks inside the oral proceedings room. Parties, representatives and other visitors are required to bring their own face masks.
The President of the Boards of Appeal will continue to monitor developments in the COVID‑19 situation and take any appropriate measures in response.
Given that this situation is still evolving rapidly, all parties to scheduled oral proceedings are advised to check the web section of the Boards of Appeal regularly for updated information.