Germany: EBA set to hear case on the legality of the EPO’s video proceedings
Eva Ehlich and Angela Zumstein of Maiwald explore why video conference technology at the EPO has caused widespread concern
The Enlarged Board of Appeal (EBA) of the EPO will soon decide on an interesting question on whether oral proceedings before the EPO can be conducted by video conference, even against the will of the parties.
In May 2020, there was little expectation that appeal case T 1807/15 would lead to a landmark decision. After all, it only related to the maintenance (or not) of a patent relating to a radio frequency amplifier, a routine type of case at the EPO.
This case was the first in a long line of similar cases. Since the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, quite a few oral hearings at the EPO have had to be postponed. Up until that point, conducting oral proceedings via video conference was contingent on the consent of the parties. However, statistical evidence shows that little use was made of video conferencing. As a result, the backlog of pending first instance proceedings continued to grow, because the coronavirus restrictions had led to a stay of almost all proceedings.
Unlike the EPO, during the year 2020, the Boards of Appeal conducted oral proceedings in different formats – such as with the parties present in person, with the parties connected by video conference or through a hybrid setting.
In December 2020, the President of the Boards of Appeal nevertheless requested the Boards of Appeal Committee to add a new Article 15a to the Rules of Procedure of the Boards of Appeal.
This is also consistent with the decision of the EPO President. Article 15a specifies that the Boards of Appeal may in principle conduct oral proceedings under Article 116 EPC via video conference, without the consent of the parties. The Boards of Appeal Committee made an ordinance to this effect and the Administrative Council approved the new Article on March 23 2021. However, this measure is not subject to any time limit and is therefore not only limited to the period of the pandemic.
The Board of Appeal responsible for this case referred the following question to the EBA, however, without reference to the new Article 15a of the Rules of Procedure of the Boards of Appeal:
Does the EPC, specifically Article 116 EPC, allow oral proceedings to be conducted via video conference against the will of the parties?
Should the EBA come to the conclusion that the EPC would not allow this, not only Article 15a of the Rules of Procedure, but also the measures taken by the EPO to combat the effects of the pandemic would for the future be nullified.
The hearing in the case before the EBA will take place on May 28 2021, interestingly in the form of a video conference.