Opposition hearings by VICO – changes in 2021

10 November 2020

Opposition hearings by VICO – changes in 2021

Progress report on pilot project shows way forward to improve access to justice

The European Patent Office (EPO) is announcing today further measures to improve access to justice in relation to opposition hearings held by videoconference (VICO), in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic which imposes restrictions on travel and health risks for all in-person meetings.

Today's report shows the considerable progress made so far in terms of the necessary legal framework, technical infrastructure and training support since the pilot project to conduct opposition hearings by VICO started in May 2020. In recent weeks the addition of Zoom as a technical platform has facilitated multi-party opposition hearings and interpretation. These advances have been broadly welcomed by the patent profession.

However, today's report also shows that the current measures will not be sufficient to clear the substantial backlog of opposition hearings that built up over the last six months. Furthermore, with the ongoing development of the coronavirus pandemic, the EPO is implementing a prudent approach to social distancing to ensure the Office protects the health of its staff and plays its role in society's efforts to mitigate the effects of the virus. Therefore the EPO is announcing:

  1. That the postponement of in-person opposition hearings (currently until 31 December 2020) be further extended to 15 September 2021 along with extension of the pilot project to the same date;
  2. That the consent of all parties for holding an opposition by VICO will no longer be necessary with effect from 4 January 2021, for the duration of the pilot project.

The pilot project has allowed users and the EPO alike to gather experience with VICOs in opposition proceedings. Participation in the current pilot requires the consent of all parties to proceedings. However, the uptake rate has remained low whilst the backlog of unresolved opposition cases has built up with a resulting loss in timeliness which is critical for access to justice. A review of all elements of the pilot shows that the consent requirement has acted as too strong a limitation on the pilot. Today's decision of the President of the EPO lays down the conditions for the pilot as from 4 January 2021.

The parties to oral proceedings affected by the new measures will be informed shortly and are invited to check online the files concerned on a regular basis. Oral proceedings before examining divisions will continue to be held by VICO in accordance with the related Decision of the President of the EPO dated 1 April 2020. For oral proceedings before the Boards of Appeal, users are invited to consult the information published elsewhere on this website.

Support for users will be enhanced continuously. Users may also be interested to learn that a proposal concerning the taking of evidence by VICO has been submitted to the Committee on Patent Law for opinion. Moreover, given the series of measures adopted by national governments in response to the pandemic, the EPO has published an updated Notice summarising the remedies available in respect of procedural periods (dated 10 November 2020).

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