17 July 2020
This week the EPO hosted its 1000th examination oral proceeding by videoconference (VICO) since the start of 2020, already far surpassing the total for all VICO hearings last year (867, representing about 14% of the total oral proceedings held in 2019). This record increase reflects the important changes in our practice, introduced in April, to schedule all examination oral proceedings by VICO unless there are serious reasons not to do so.
In addition to the substantial increase in VICOs for examination oral proceedings, since the start of May a new pilot programme for opposition hearings by VICO has already seen over 50 cases taking place, with another 50 planned during the summer. Last March EPO President António Campinos committed to improving how the EPO interacts with applicants and opponents, helping them to overcome obstacles and to continue to ensure predictability, timeliness and quality - and expanding our VICO services for oral proceedings is part of our response.
The EPO has been holding examination oral proceedings by VICO since 1998. However, the current COVID-19 crisis has disrupted business travel, and with it access to face-to-face oral proceedings. Our rapid response included major improvements to our infrastructure to enable examination oral proceedings to be conducted by VICO on a large scale and to support the new pilot project for opposition proceedings by VICO. With the infrastructure in place and our staff trained, we expect to conclude a further 2000 oral proceedings by VICO by the end of the year.
The EPO has been greatly encouraged by the positive response from the patent profession in adapting to the changes in practice introduced in April. Applicants and attorneys have embraced the opportunities to use VICO facilities, providing feedback that continues to help the EPO improve.
The EPO remains committed to making sure that the right to be heard is respected and to providing easy access to transparent, fair and efficient proceedings in a low-cost, effective and environmentally-friendly manner. We are convinced that, in due course, applicants and attorneys will make VICO their format of choice for oral proceedings.