European Patent Office Postpones Oral Proceedings in Opposition Through 2020

By Francesca Giovannini

On 29 July 2020, the European Patent Office (EPO) announced the postponement until further notice of all oral proceedings in opposition scheduled until 31 December 2020 which have not either (1) already been confirmed to take place by videoconference or (2) will be held by videoconference with the parties’ consent. As to oral proceedings in examination, these will continue to be held by videoconference.

Oral proceedings by videoconference in examination have been an option for applicants of European patent applications since 1998. In view of the disruptions caused by the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19), since 2 April 2020, when the Decision of the President of the EPO dated 1 April 2020 entered into force, oral proceedings before examining divisions have to be generally held by videoconference. The only exception to this general rule is if there are serious reasons against holding them in this way, such as the need to take oral evidence. In such exceptional cases, oral proceedings may still be held on the premises of the EPO, either at the request of the applicant or at the initiative of the examining division.

Additionally, following the Decision of the President of the EPO dated 14 April 2020, a pilot project has been introduced to hold oral proceedings by videoconference also in opposition. Differently from oral proceedings in examination, however, oral proceedings in opposition may be held by videoconference at the discretion of the opposition division and with the agreement of all parties, i.e., proprietor(s) and opponent(s).

The parties are expected to be informed about the postponement of oral proceedings in affected opposition cases. However, the respective files where the notice of postponement of oral proceedings will be available should be reviewed via the European Patent Register shortly after its dispatch.