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Oppositions hearings by video conference

The European Patent Office (EPO) has announced a pilot project to trial opposition hearings by video conference.

For the past few years, it has been possible to request that oral proceedings before the Examining Division are held by video conference, and at AdamsonJones we have been taking advantage of this for some time. However, it has not been possible to hold Opposition or Appeal hearings in the same way due to the additional complication of having multiple parties involved in addition to the Opposition Board, and the need to ensure that all parties have a fair hearing.

The President of the EPO has now announced that a pilot project for oral proceedings by video conference before Opposition Divisions will be held. The option for oral proceedings by video conference will extend to all oral proceedings scheduled to take place after 4 May 2020 and will run until 30 April 2021.

A hearing by video conference can be requested by any party, but acceptance of the request is at the discretion of the EPO. It will only be accepted if all parties are in agreement, if there is no need to take evidence, and if there are no other serious reasons for requiring the hearing to take place in person. The latter point includes such reasons as interpretation being required, as simultaneous translation is not currently available remotely. If technical problems occur during the proceedings which cannot be overcome, then the Opposition Division will issue a new summons to oral proceedings.

Oral proceedings before the Opposition Division are public, and oral proceedings by video conference will remain so. A member of the public can attend either remotely (prior notice is required) or on the premises of the EPO, where the Opposition Division is set up.

This is an exciting development. The current pandemic has brought the need to be able to hold such proceedings by video conference into sharp relief and may have hastened this pilot, but it is likely that this is the road we were headed on anyway. There is a question of whether anything will be lost in terms of interactions between the parties by using videoconference, and it may be that for important cases some patentees would still prefer their attorney to attend in person. However, for smaller companies, the cost savings associated with attending the hearing by videoconference may be of material benefit.

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