Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, since 2 April 2020 oral proceedings before examining divisions of the European Patent Office have been held by videoconference only (Skype for Business), in line with a first decision of the EPO President.

Furthermore, according to a second decision of the EPO President, oral proceedings before opposition divisions will also be held only by videoconference (Zoom), at least during a pilot phase from 4 January 2021 to 15 September 2021.

Videoconference hearings will thus be mandatory during the coming months at the first instances of the EPO, unless there are “serious reasons” not to do so, e.g. the need to take evidence directly, in which case they will be postponed to a date after 15 September 2021. The Boards of Appeals of the EPO have also considered the use of videoconference by launching a public consultation on this matter in November 2020.

In its response to the consultation, FICPI welcomed the option of videoconference hearings but also observed that “Once the Covid emergency is over, […] parties should always have the right to attend oral proceedings in person, at least in inter partes proceedings, even if oral proceedings by videoconference become a standard option for conducting oral proceedings in the future.”.

On 15 December 2020, the Boards of Appeals adopted special measures to hold oral proceedings in person, such as limiting the attendance to two persons per party and other Covid-related restrictions. Furthermore, videoconferencing may be used in oral proceedings for appeals from 1 January 2021 “even without the agreement of the parties concerned”.

The public can request, with a prior notice of at least three days, to follow virtual hearings by sending an email to the opposition division (support@epo.org) or to the Boards of Appeal (reception-haar@epo.org), respectively.

The above-mentioned measures have raised different reactions from the users, not only within FICPI, ranging from those supporting mandatory videoconferencing to continue after the Covid-19 emergency to those who instead believe that preventing a party from attending oral proceedings in person violates the right to be heard.

FICPI’s view and involvement

Membership of FICPI brings access to qualified independent IP attorneys across the world with the insights and counsel they bring from their wider external perspective.

FICPI's regular programme of meetings with IP Offices across the world builds strong relationships and allows FICPI to present common solutions and advocacy for private practice.

Next steps

  • Consider getting involved with the European Members Committee of FICPI (EUCOF), set up to facilitate relations with the European Commission and other pan-European organisations interested in intellectual property.
  • Find out more about FICPI's Study & Work Committee on European Patents (CET 4).
  • Visit FICPI's events page to discover upcoming FICPI and industry events and to access FICPI's bank of webinar recordings.
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