Oral Proceedings before the Boards of Appeal to be conducted by VICO
Up until now, unlike in examination and opposition proceedings, the Boards of Appeal have continued to schedule hearings in person at the EPO. The parties could request a change of date if they were unable to attend. The hearings were held by videoconference (VICO) only with the agreement of all the parties.
In light of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, the Boards of Appeal have now reassessed some of their measures for the arrangement and conduct of oral proceedings and from 1 January 2021 oral proceedings may be conducted by VICO even without the consent of the parties concerned.
The new practice is codified in new Article 15a of the Rules of Procedures of the Boards of Appeal (RPBA). Under the new rule, the Board in the particular appeal may decide to hold oral proceedings by videoconference if the Board considers it appropriate to do so, either upon request by a party or of its own motion.
It remains to be seen how the Boards will apply their discretion. The proposal document relating to Article 15a RPBA listed some considerations that could be taken into account when deciding whether to use VICO. Among them there is the complexity of the case, any need for interpretation, willingness to attend virtually, travel restrictions, and personal circumstances. However the provision itself does not mention any of these criteria.
Article 15a RPBA has now been adopted by the Boards of Appeal Committee with immediate effect after a swift user consultation, which took place in November. A total of 162 replies were received, 18 from various user groups and associations and 144 from individual respondents, Murgitroyd being one of them. The submissions have not been published yet.
Art. 15a RPBA will officially enter into force on April 2021 upon approval by the Administrative Council.
The Boards of Appeal Committee has indicated the intention to evaluate the experience gained from the use of videoconferencing in oral proceedings before the Boards of Appeal. In any case, we expect this practice to continue after the end of the current pandemic.
Although we prefer oral proceedings in person for the added value they bring, we recognize that VICO works well in most of the cases and has several advantages in terms of sustainability and accessibility to EPO hearings.
Either way, we look forward continuing to represent our clients at EPO oral proceedings!
Please contact Laura Fè to find out more:
Dr Laura Fè
T: +49 (0) 89 309 071 100