6 April 2022
Following two years of positive experience and steady progress in the large-scale implementation of videoconference (VICO) for oral proceedings, the President of the EPO has decided to further extend the pilot project for oral proceedings in opposition by VICO until 31 December 2022. The extension reflects the EPO's continuing concern for the health and safety of staff and visitors on site in the light of the ongoing pandemic and provides an opportunity to release additional tools and procedures in relation to VICO. Where there are serious reasons preventing the use of VICO for oral proceedings in opposition, the proceedings will be postponed until after 31 December 2022. Requests for on-site oral proceedings in view of such serious reasons will be evaluated by an expert panel to ensure thorough and harmonised assessment.
To help attorneys better present their case in oral proceedings by VICO, additional features are being implemented in Zoom. These include digital whiteboards for use by attorneys to sketch diagrams - like on a traditional flipchart - to support their arguments. Additional audio channels will also be made available if requested in advance by the parties concerned to facilitate interpretation into admissible non-EPO languages. And to further enhance the user experience, digital deliberation or breakout rooms will allow parties to confer in private. The EPO will continue to update and broaden its training portfolio to help representatives familiarise themselves with these new features.
These improvements are in direct response to the user feedback given at the end of oral proceedings and within the framework of last autumn's extensive consultation, which concluded that two-thirds of attorneys rate VICO as "very good" or "good". The ID checks for parties prior to the start of oral proceedings are also being simplified - again in response to user feedback. Specific feedback and suggestions received during the remaining phase of the pilot project will determine further improvements.
Having already managed in early 2022 to bring the backlog of opposition cases back to pre-pandemic levels, the EPO is intent on further improving timeliness. Some 350 opposition cases are now heard via VICO every month (averaged over the last six months). Most users appreciate the savings in terms of time, money and carbon emissions that VICOs offer over in-person oral proceedings. In continuous dialogue with our stakeholders and through the changes announced today, the EPO is resolved to make videoconferencing the optimal platform for oral proceedings in examination and opposition.