Response to the EPO’s user survey on video conferencing

Gwilym Roberts, Honorary Secretary, prepared CIPA’s response to the EPO President’s consultation on the use of video conferencing for oral proceedings, submitted on 30 September 2021. Background to the EPO’s survey can be seen here.

The UK Patent Attorney profession has been heavily involved in video conferencing (ViCo) proceedings at the EPO including examination, opposition (opponent or proprietor) and appeal proceedings. We have invested significantly as a profession in ViCo training – running extremely well-attended webinars, providing training materials and collaborating closely with the EPO to share relevant information and expertise. The overall view has been the platform is fit for purpose, permitting the parties to share their views clearly and effectively. The proceedings have been considered to be fair and efficient. CIPA also believes that use of ViCo has been particularly beneficial for those who cannot travel for example for health or family reasons and for bringing true transparency to the proceedings, allowing parties from all over the globe to attend proceedings without the requirement for costly and time-consuming travel arrangements. In addition to this, reduction in overall travel is both attractive to EPO users and also environmentally highly beneficial.

We strongly believe that ViCo is the medium of choice for the majority of oral proceedings before the EPO with potential exceptions around health issues, cases where handling of evidence is specifically relevant and high-value or complex cases where all parties agree on attending. We have significant concerns over ‘hybrid’ proceedings; as experience of remote interaction has increased it becomes clear that such hybrid proceedings can be detrimental to both the ‘real world’ and ‘virtual’ parties. In other words, it is the worst of both worlds.

We urge the EPO to continue to strive for complete clarity in relation to summons to oral proceedings as we have significant concerns over gaming of the system under the present set of rules. CIPA strongly supports ViCo which now has proved fit for purpose for the vast majority of cases as it appears to be proportionate, fairand provides full access to justice.

If all parties want in-person, OPs should be in-person; if all parties want ViCo they should be ViCo; but if the parties don’t agree, then the EPO should make the decision. The decision (to impose either ViCo or in-person)should be made on the basis on transparent criteria/clear, published, guidelines. Likely they will generallydefault to ViCo – but not necessarily: they should take all relevant factors into account.

Date published: 1 October 2021

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