The EPO has announced this week that it intends to extend its pilot project for oral proceedings by videoconference before the Opposition Division until 15 September 2021.
Furthermore, in what appears to be a tactic in preventing a continuous build-up of rescheduled and cancelled hearings, for oral proceedings that are scheduled to take place on or after 4 January 2021, the agreement of the parties to hold oral proceedings by videoconference will no longer be required. What this means is that oral proceedings may only be held on the premises of the EPO if there are serious reasons against holding them by videoconference. The requirements for oral proceedings before the Opposition Division have moved more in line with those which came into force earlier this year for oral proceedings before the Examining Division.
The serious reasons required to request to attend the oral proceedings in person seem to include issues which an individual may have which would impair their ability to follow proceedings on a screen (such as visual impairment). Another reason could be that the presentation of evidence, where it is essential to assess the haptic features of the invention, is required. What appears not to be acceptable anymore is the argument that it would not be possible for a party to attend the hearing where multiple languages and translations are required. The EPO remain confident that they have put the necessary technology in place to deal with such matters. A request to attend oral proceedings in person must be filed as early as it is possible to do so, and will be at the discretion of the Opposition Division.
It remains to be seen if the EPO intends to adopt opposition proceedings to be held by videoconference permanently, and what will happen with appeal proceedings. If you have any questions on this topic, Haseltine Lake Kempner has a team of opposition experts who can advise further. The full notice from the EPO can be found here.