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Following the outbreak of COVID-19 and the impact this has had across Europe, the European Patent Office (EPO) has announced new measures to enable proceedings to safely continue.
Oral proceedings before the Examining Division will continue to be held by videoconference, in accordance with the Decision of the EPO President of 1 April 2020.
The EPO had previously postponed all opposition oral proceedings until 2 June 2020. In an update published on 21 May, it was announced that all oral proceedings before the Opposition Division are now postponed until 14 September 2020, apart from those which have either already been confirmed to take place by videoconference, or will be held by videoconference with the parties’ consent under the EPO’s pilot project for oral proceedings by videoconference.
The parties in affected cases will be informed about the postponement as soon as possible, and are invited to check the respective files online via the European Patent Register for a notice of postponement of oral proceedings.
At present, opposition oral proceedings which are scheduled on or after 15 September 2020 are still intended to take place, and all necessary measures to protect the health of all participants in the oral proceedings will be taken.
In an update on 25 May, it was announced that the EPO Boards of Appeal have now resumed holding oral proceedings to some extent at their offices in Haar, outside Munich.
Parties due to attend the oral proceedings will be asked to confirm as soon as possible that they expect to be able to attend in person, and that no travel restrictions are expected to cause problems. It is also requested to consider whether all representatives and accompanying persons need to attend.
The parties will also be asked to complete a screening questionnaire before their arrival, and a ‘yes’ response to either of the questions will result in a person being denied access to the premises.
In such a scenario, the board will decide if the oral proceedings can be held without that person, or whether a postponement is required.
The Boards of Appeal are also now conducting some oral proceedings via video-conference. This can however only be done in agreement with the parties involved.
While members of the public are permitted to attend oral proceedings before the Boards of Appeal, limited places are currently available, and anyone wishing to attend should inform the EPO as soon as possible. All visitors will also be asked to complete the screening questionnaire before their arrival.
Any member of the public wishing to attend oral proceedings conducted by video-conference can also do so in a dedicated room at the EPO’s offices in Haar. However, only limited places are available, and the screening questionnaire will again have to be completed.
As one would expect, strict sanitary measures will be in place for any oral proceedings. These include rules on minimum physical distancing and the requirement to wear a face mask on the way to the room the oral proceedings are to be held in. The boards may also require the use of face masks inside the oral proceedings room; those involved in the oral proceedings are asked to bring their own face masks.
The EPO is continually monitoring the situation, and further updates will be made available if the situations change.
If you have any further questions about EPO proceedings, please get in touch to speak to one of our attorneys.