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Oral proceedings in opposition to be held by VICO – changes in 2021

In light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic which imposes restrictions on travel and health risks for all in-person meetings, the European Patent Office (EPO) started a pilot project last May to conduct opposition hearings by VICO. Since then, the EPO made considerable progress in terms of the necessary legal framework, technical infrastructure and training support. The addition of Zoom as a technical platform also allowed multi-party opposition hearings and hearings requiring simultaneous interpretation to be held by VICO.

However, participation in the pilot project required the consent of all parties to the proceedings and the uptake has remained low while the backlog of opposition hearings has increased. The loss of timeliness caused by the build up of pending oppositions is viewed by the EPO as “critical for access to justice”.

Therefore the EPO recently announced:

  1. the extension of the postponement of in-person opposition hearings to 15 September 2021 along with the extension of the pilot project to the same date;
  2. the consent from all parties for holding an opposition by VICO will no longer be necessary with effect from 4 January 2021, for the duration of the pilot project.

The decision of the President of the EPO in this respect and a Notice from the EPO can be found at here and here.

In practice, it means that any opposition hearings scheduled until September next year will take place by VICO. Parties, their representatives and any persons accompanying the parties or representatives may connect to the videoconference from different locations, on condition that the number of additional participants does not impair the efficient conduct of the proceedings.
Oral proceedings before examining divisions will continue to be held by VICO. Oral proceedings before the Boards of Appeal are in person for the time being. However, amendments to the Rules of Procedure of the Boards of Appeal are in discussion to allow oral proceedings to be also held by VICO.

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