Before an administrative authority or a court takes a decision, it is required to establish the existence of the material facts, i.e. the facts from which, under the relevant legal provision, the legal effect ensues. The facts are established by taking evidence. The purpose of all evidence, whatever its nature, is to confirm a party's assertions.
The main provisions governing evidence, the means and taking of evidence and the conservation of evidence are Art. 117 EPC, Art. 131(2) EPC, R. 117 to 124 EPC (the last rule as amended by decision CA/D 6/14 of the Administrative Council (OJ 2015, A17), which entered into force on 1 April 2015) and R. 150 EPC.
In the revised EPC 2000, the content of Art. 117(2) to (6) EPC 1973 was rephrased in the new Art. 117(2) EPC. The procedural aspects concerning the taking of evidence were transferred to the Implementing Regulations (see OJ SE 5/2007, Part II, pp. 176-192). Furthermore, the revised Art. 117(1) EPC no longer lists the EPO departments which may take evidence; it now includes a general reference to "proceedings before the European Patent Office".
Art. 117 EPC, entitled "Means and taking of evidence", provides for the submission of evidence before all EPO departments, including the Receiving Section, examining divisions, opposition divisions, the Legal Division and the boards of appeal.
Beyond the letter of the EPC, the boards of appeal have addressed multiple issues of admissibility and taking of evidence in their case law. In addition, they have elaborated specific principles governing the evaluation of evidence and the allocation of the burden of proof in order to ensure that EPO proceedings are conducted in a fair and consistent manner.
In accordance with the principle of free evaluation of evidence, any kind of evidence, regardless of its nature, is admissible (T 482/89, OJ 1992, 646).
Art. 117(1) EPC and Art. 113(1) EPC embody a basic procedural right generally recognised in the EPC contracting states, viz. the right to give evidence in appropriate form (specifically by producing documents under Art. 117(1)(c) EPC) and the right to have that evidence heard (T 1110/03, OJ 2005, 302). A decision should discuss the facts, evidence and arguments which are essential to the decision in detail (see for example T 278/00, OJ 2003, 546, in chapter III.K.3.4.4 b)).
Whether or not a fact can be regarded as proven has to be assessed by the department hearing the case having taken all the relevant evidence into consideration (T 474/04, OJ 2006, 129 and T 545/08 citing G 3/97, OJ 1999, 245, point 5 of the Reasons).
All the means of giving or obtaining evidence covered by Art. 117 EPC are subject to the discretion of the EPO department concerned, which will order it to be taken only if it considers this necessary (T 798/93, OJ 1997, 363).
If the evidence offered as proof of contested facts essential to the settlement of the dispute is decisive, the department hearing the case must, as a rule, order that it be taken (see T 474/04, OJ 2006, 129, about witnesses). All appropriate offers of evidence made by the parties should be taken up (T 329/02).
The principle of unfettered consideration of the evidence does not apply until after it had been taken and could not be used to justify not taking evidence offered (T 2238/15, alleged prior use – offer of witnesses; see also the principles laid down in T 1363/14).
The EPC does not provide a legal basis for excluding, in appeal proceedings, documents which were correctly admitted into the first-instance proceedings, in particular when the impugned decision is based on them (T 1201/14, T 26/13, T 931/14, T 564/12; see also T 95/07, point 4.2.12 of the Reasons, T 1277/12 of 7 April 2017 date: 2017-04-07).
As for the standard of proof, the EPO generally applies the "balance of probabilities" (see J 20/85, OJ 1987, 102, point 4 of the Reasons). The balance of probabilities standard is met if, after evaluating the evidence, the boards are persuaded one way or the other (T 286/10). However, especially in cases where only one party – the opponent – had access to information about an alleged public prior use, the case law has tended toward expecting that the public prior use be proved beyond any reasonable doubt or "up to the hilt" (see e.g. T 55/01, point 4.1 of the Reasons; and T 472/92, OJ 1998, 161, point 3.1 of the Reasons; T 2451/13, Catchword). Summary of the case law concerning the standard of proof can be found e.g. in the following relatively recent cases: T 738/04, point 3.4 of the Reasons; T 286/10, point 2.2 of the Reasons; T 918/11, point 3.3 of the Reasons; T 2054/11, points 2.2 and 2.3 of the Reasons; T 2227/11, point 2 of the Reasons; T 274/12, point 4.2.1 of the Reasons; T 202/13, point 15.6.1 of the Reasons; T 2451/13, point 3.2 of the Reasons; T 545/08, points 7-11 of the Reasons.
The standard of proof for internet citations now seems to have been established by the decisions in T 286/10 and T 2227/11, which were endorsed more recently in T 1711/11, T 353/14 and T 545/08. The appropriate standard of proof for internet citations is the "balance of probabilities". The conclusion reached in the earlier decision T 1134/06 (followed by T 19/05 and T 1875/06) that the stricter standard of proof "beyond reasonable doubt" had to be applied to internet disclosures has been refuted.
Examining the evidence a board took into account would amount to revisiting the substance of the case and so falls outside the ambit of the review procedure (R 21/09, R 6/12). A reversal of the burden of proof is not covered by the exhaustive list of possible grounds for a petition for review (R 21/10).
R. 3(3) EPC provides that documentary evidence may be filed in any language. The EPO may, however, require that a translation in one of its official languages be filed within a specified period. If the required translation is not filed in due time, the EPO may disregard the document in question, as for example in T 276/07. The language to be used for taking evidence and writing the minutes is governed by Art. 14(3) EPC (language of the proceedings) and R. 4 EPC (derogations from the provisions on use of the language of the proceedings in oral proceedings); (Guidelines E‑IV, 1.3 "Taking of evicence" – November 2018 version; see also chapter III.F.2. "Language of the proceedings".
Cross-references: evidential matters permeate all aspects of patent law; it is thus recommended to refer also to the following chapters, which deal specifically with these matters: I.C.3.2.3 "Internet disclosures"; I.C.3.2.2 "Lectures and oral disclosure"; I.C.3.5. "Issues of proof"; I.C.3.5.1 "Burden of proof"; I.C.3.5.2 "Standard of proof"; I.C.3.5.2 c) "Internet – proof of the date of availability"; I.D.4.6. "Solving a technical problem – post-published documents"; II.A.2.2.2 "Burden of proof"; II.C.6.6.7 "Experiments"; II.C.6.8 "Post-published documents"; II.C.9. "Evidence"; II.E.5. "Evidence and standard of proof for allowing amendments and corrections"; III.A.1.3. "Causal link and the requirement of proof"; III.B.2.3. "Surprising grounds or evidence"; III.B.2.4.5 "Failure to consider evidence"; III.B.2.6.4 "Hearing witnesses"; III.B.2.7.1 "Facts and evidence put forward for the first time during oral proceedings in inter partes cases"; III.C.6.3. "Final date for written submissions in the preparation for oral proceedings and late submission of new facts and evidence – Rule 116 EPC"; III.E.4.4. "Substantiation of the request for re-establishment"; IV.B.2.8.5 "Fresh argument based on grounds and evidence communicated beforehand"; IV.C.4.7.2 "Late submission of new arguments in opposition proceedings"; V.A.4.4.2 b) "Late-filed facts and evidence"; V.A.4.13.1 c) "Evidence of common general knowledge"; V.A.4.13.6 "Public prior use"; III.O.2.6. "Evidence for and effect of a transfer"; IV.C.2.2.8 "Indication of facts, evidence and arguments – substantiation of grounds for opposition"; IV.C.2.2.8 d) "Alleged public prior use"; IV.C.3.4.5 "Examination of fresh facts and evidence"; V.A.7.5.5 "Remittal to department of first instance ordered"; V.B.3.6.4 "Minutes as evidence that the objection was raised". See also Guidelines E‑IV "Taking and conservation of evidence" – November 2018 version.