30 November 2021
Oral proceedings in opposition conducted by videoconference (VICO) are appreciated by a majority of users, according to the findings of the user survey from 1 to 30 September 2021. The EPO's report, published today, contains an evaluation of the pilot project so far (over 18 months) and explains what the EPO will be doing following last week's decision to extend the pilot project to 31 May 2022 in light of the worsening pandemic.
The recent user survey attracted the largest ever response to questions about EPO policy and practice. Over three quarters of the 700 respondents had participated in at least one oral proceedings in opposition by VICO. Two thirds of respondents found the provision of oral proceedings in opposition by VICO to be "good" or "very good". Their answers to follow-up questions have revealed what they like and dislike about oral proceedings by VICO, with the advantages outnumbering the disadvantages with regard to the new ways of working in 2021.
Clearly some users prefer oral proceedings on EPO premises so that they can better detect and respond to non-verbal communication (so-called "body language") and they feel that oral arguments are simply better presented in person. However, videoconferencing requires different styles of presentation, including the use of new digital tools (like the virtual whiteboard) for making one's case.
EPO President António Campinos said:
"The last 18 months have taught us a great deal, and I thank the staff of the Office and all of the patent profession for their patience and flexibility along the journey of the pilot project so far. The extensive feedback given has clearly shown that a majority of users value the time, money and emissions saved by conducting oral proceedings in opposition by videoconference. VICO has not only enabled us to ensure timely access to justice, the EPO is now handling several hundred opposition oral proceedings each month (about 350). The greater transparency afforded by VICO, with a twentyfold increase in public observers, is a bonus none of us predicted at the outset. The responses suggest that, for a majority of our users, videoconferencing is becoming their format of choice for oral proceedings."
By conducting oral proceedings in opposition by VICO, users have also enjoyed greater support. First, they appreciate having their own colleagues and back office on hand to assist them during proceedings if unforeseen issues arise. Secondly a larger pool of interpreters is now accessible thanks to remote interpretation, which has seen an increase in the use of interpreters (up from 30.7% in 2019 to 35.4% in 2021, especially in French). Thirdly, the EPO has provided a dedicated IT support desk to respond rapidly to technical problems during oral proceedings, as well as providing test call facilities prior to oral proceedings. Finally, the EPO has expanded its training offer with new e-learning modules, to assist patent professionals to benefit from the new possibilities this technology allows. More than 7000 users have participated in the various training courses offered by the EPO in 2021 or accessed online training material on demand.