In what appears to be an attempt to reduce the backlog of appeal cases that it has to deal with, the European Patent Office has announced a further change to its rules that will take effect on 1 April 2014. A 50% refund of the official appeal fee will be made if an appeal is withdrawn (a) at least four weeks prior to a date set for oral proceedings (ie hearing at the EPO in Munich), (b) where the Board of Appeal has not appointed oral proceedings but has invited the appellant to file observations, before the expiry of the period for doing so, or (c) in all other cases, before the Board issues its decision.
It is almost always the case that a long period of time elapses between the filing of an appeal and the next action by the Board of Appeal. Appellants may no longer be interested in the case by the time the Board of Appeal is due to consider it. The new rule now gives those appellants a financial incentive to actively withdraw the appeal. After 1 April 2014, the appeal fee will increase substantially, to EUR 1860, and so the available refund will be EUR 930. Time will tell what impact this measure will have on appellants’ behaviour, and hence on the workload of the EPO’s Boards of Appeal.