12 July 2021
A report published today explains how the EPO, our applicants and the patent profession have successfully navigated a major cultural shift in the conduct of oral proceedings in opposition - namely by videoconference (VICO). The report summarises the considerable progress we have made together since May 2020, in terms of our legal framework, technical infrastructure, training and support to users. Since January 2021 the consent of the parties to VICO has ceased to be a limitation and the EPO has been working steadily to clear the backlog of cases that built up last summer - hearing over 350 cases each month in 2021. The Office is on track to return to a pre-pandemic state as regards the number and timeliness of cases decided in opposition later next year. The experience of Zoom as the preferred VICO platform has been positive, such that it will be expanded in the coming weeks to encompass all oral proceedings, e.g. in examination and before the Receiving Section and Legal Division too.
Feedback from the patent profession has been central to the success of the pilot project, enabling the EPO to adapt and refine its approach so as to maintain access to justice, improve efficiency and increase transparency. One consequence of the move to VICO has been a more than tenfold increase in the number of observers at public oral proceedings in opposition - because geography is no longer a limiting factor. The transition to VICO was initially met with considerable reluctance and scepticism a year ago, but the benefits in terms of legal certainty, timeliness, accessibility and sustainability are now winning over many members of the patent profession.
The report published today also explains the next steps in the pilot project. It is a prelude to a user consultation to be conducted during the autumn, the results from which will be analysed and used to prepare developments for 2022. The Office awaits the decision of the Enlarged Board of Appeal in case G 1/21 related to oral proceedings by VICO following the public hearing on 2 July 2021 and will take it into account when it is issued. Until then the current measures, namely that oral proceedings are conducted exclusively via VICO, are foreseen to continue until 31 January 2022. The EPO is maintaining its prudent approach to social distancing to ensure the Office protects the health of its staff and to mitigate transmission of the virus.