Notice from the European Patent Office dated 1 April 2020 concerning oral proceedings and interviews to be held by videoconference
Pursuant to the decision of the President dated 1 April 2020 concerning oral proceedings held by videoconference before examining divisions (OJ EPO 2020, A39), oral proceedings before examining divisions are to be held by videoconference. This notice supersedes the previous notice concerning interviews and oral proceedings to be held as a video-conference (OJ EPO 2018, A96).
Oral proceedings held by videoconference are equivalent to oral proceedings held on the premises of the European Patent Office (EPO). Consequently, a request for further oral proceedings before the same department (whether by videoconference or any other form) may be refused where the parties and the subject of the proceedings are the same (Article 116(1) EPC).
2. Request for oral proceedings on the premises of the EPO
As a rule, where oral proceedings have been requested or are considered expedient by the division, the applicant or representative will be summoned to oral proceedings by videoconference. Equally, interviews in examination will be held by videoconference as a matter of course.
A request that oral proceedings be held by way of exception on the premises of the EPO should be filed as early as possible, preferably together with the request for oral proceedings. The granting of a request for oral proceedings to be held on the premises of the EPO will be at the discretion of the competent division.
If the request for oral proceedings on the premises of the EPO is received after the summons to oral proceedings and cannot be allowed, the division will inform the applicant that the oral proceedings will take place by videoconference as set out in the summons and include a brief reasoning as to why the request cannot be granted. If the request is received before the summons has been issued, the reasons for the refusal will be given in the annex to the summons. In either case, no appealable decision will be issued on the matter.
If a request for oral proceedings on the premises of the EPO is received after the summons to oral proceedings by videoconference has been issued and the request is allowed, the applicant will be informed that oral proceedings will be held on the premises of the EPO as requested; the date of the oral proceedings will remain unchanged.
Oral proceedings will not be held by videoconference if the proceedings require the direct taking of evidence, or if there are other serious reasons for not doing so, for example where an impediment prevents an applicant or representative from participating in oral proceedings held by videoconference.
Sweeping objections against the reliability of videoconferencing technology or the non-availability of videoconferencing equipment will, as a rule, not qualify as serious reasons in this regard. Equally, the need to consider written evidence will not qualify as a serious reason.
4. Technical instructions for videoconferences
Videoconferences will be conducted using IP technology (SIP, H.323, secure web-based and legacy systems).
Interviews and oral proceedings held by videoconference will take place on a working day within EPO working hours.
The date, time and the videoconference contact details to be used to establish the connection (in the form of a link or by other suitable means) will be confirmed by email containing any further appropriate information. A communication containing information on the organisation of a videoconference will not replace the summons to oral proceedings.
Applicants or representatives must ensure that their videoconferencing equipment meets the technical requirements specified in the communication containing the technical instructions. They are encouraged to set up a connection to a demonstration system well before the oral proceedings take place.
Further information on the technology and procedure for conducting interviews and oral proceedings by videoconference, as well as a code of conduct for participants ("online etiquette") will be made available on the EPO website.
5. Equipment and costs
The EPO videoconference studios are for internal use only and therefore not available for applicants' or representatives' own use.
The EPO does not require the payment of a specific fee for holding an interview or oral proceedings by videoconference. The applicant or representative will bear only the costs for their connection to the internet and any technical facilities at their end.
6. Remote connection of members of a division
In the event of oral proceedings being held by videoconference, the members of the examining division may connect to the proceedings remotely from different locations. For deliberation and voting, a separate videoconference will be set up between the members of the division.
The applicant or representative will be informed of the remote participation of members of the division in the confirmation email containing information on the organisation of a videoconference or by the chairperson after the connection has been established and before the oral proceedings are opened.
7. Participation of applicants and representatives from different locations
An applicant and their representative may be allowed to connect to oral proceedings held by videoconference from different locations. An intention to that effect should be indicated as early as possible.
No image or sound recording may be made of any part of oral proceedings held by videoconference.
During interviews and oral proceedings held by videoconference, submissions are to be made by email or, exceptionally, by fax (see the currently valid decision of the President dated 20 April 2012 concerning the filing of documents by email during interviews and oral proceedings held by videoconference, OJ EPO 2012, 348). The chairperson or, in the case of an interview, the first examiner will provide the applicant or representative with the email address to be used at the beginning of the oral proceedings.
10. Technical problems
Where, notwithstanding all efforts of the participants, technical problems prevent the oral proceedings by videoconference from being conducted, a new summons to oral proceedings will be issued. As a rule, such new oral proceedings will be held by videoconference, unless there are serious reasons for not doing so.