Reform of the EPO Boards of Appeal and Potential Impacts on Applicants

By: Francesca Giovannini

At the meeting of the Administrative Council last June, the European Patent Office (EPO)’s Member States adopted a proposal from the Office for reform of the Boards of Appeal. As a consequence, the reform came into effect on July 1, 2016.

One of the declared aims of the reform is that of decreasing the backlog of cases, thus ensuring a timely delivery of decisions. Despite previous efforts, in fact, the backlog growth showed little sign of relenting in the last years. Furthermore, the reform intends to increase the organizational and managerial autonomy of the Boards of Appeal.

Should the reform achieve the declared aims, the main change impacting Applicants would be the reduction of the length of the appeal proceedings. This expected change, which has been confirmed by the President of the EPO at the AIPPI congress held in Milan in September 2016, would be welcomed by the users. Indeed, the average duration of the appeals conducted before the Technical Boards of Appeal in 2015 was about 36 months. In particular, 38 months were necessary to obtain a decision in ex-parte (i.e., examination) appeal proceedings, while 34 months were necessary to obtain a decision in inter-partes (i.e., opposition) appeal proceedings.