Impact of COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) Pandemic on EPO Operations

By Francesca Giovannini

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Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the European Patent Office (EPO) has announced measures to safeguard applicants’ rights and opposition and appeal parties’ rights. Among the announced measures, the EPO communicated that all “time limits” before the EPO expiring on or after 15 March 2020 are extended until 17 April 2020. If the disruption should continue after 17 April 2020, any further extensions and remedies in respect of time limits will be communicated in further EPO notices.

As reported in our Monthly Insights newsletter issue of February 2020, applicants, proprietors and opponents may rely on the general legal remedies provided for under the European Patent Convention (EPC) and under the Patent  Cooperation Treaty (PCT) for PCT acts performed before the EPO in cases of non-observance of time limits. Contrary to what may be inferred by the EPO announcement, however, it is important to realize and understand that not all deadlines fall within the definition of “time limits” extended by the EPO until April 17 2020. For example, the deadline for filing written submissions and/or amendments before oral proceedings as indicated in the Summons to attend oral proceedings, the deadline for filing a divisional application, and most (but not all) of the deadlines for paying renewal fees are excluded from the above-mentioned extension. Therefore, it is important to consult a patent attorney regarding any deadline that an applicant might not be able to comply with before the deadline expires.

The EPO has also decided to postpone until further notice all oral proceedings in examination and opposition proceedings scheduled until 17 April 2020 unless they have already been confirmed to take place by means of videoconferencing. As to the oral proceedings in appeal proceedings, they will not be held in the premises of the Boards of Appeal until 17 April 2020. The EPO will contact the concerned parties with a communication.

In view of the rapidly evolving situation with the COVID-19, all parties should regularly check both the EPO website providing continually updated information and the web section of the Boards of Appeal for updated information.