As reported by the IPKat, with reference to a note of Reddie & Grose on their website, a referral to the Enlarged Board of Appeal is currently in the making. The legality of oral proceedings conducted as video-conference will be looked at.
Note, however, that the referral has not yet been made as per today.
The docket to watch is EP 1 609 239. The parties had not consented to oral proceedings by video-conferencing, but they have nevertheless been summoned to a video-conference. The minutes of the oral proceedings of 8 February 2021 hold:
After deliberation by the Board, the Chairman informed the parties that the Board will refer a question to the Enlarged Board of Appeal. The decision will be given in writing.
The composition of the to-be-referring Board 3.5.02 of Chaiman Richard LORD has then been changed on 11 February 2021; Wilhelm UNGLER (legal member) has been appointed as an additional rapporteur besides Fabian GIESEN (technical member).
One of the parties had filed an auxiliary request by Email, apparently during the oral proceedings. Since the request was in German, I suspect that it was filed by the opponent / appellant. It losely translates as follows:
We hereby submit the auxiliary request to submit to the Enlarged Board of Appeal for decision the question whether oral proceedings pursuant to Art. 116 EPC may be replaced by a video-conference if the parties do not agree thereto.
(On the fun side: Does that mean that a video-conference had been okay if the main request had been granted?)
I don’t think that this will be the question finally being referred to the EBoA because it already assumes that a video-conference is something different than oral proceedings pursuant to Art. 116 EPC. This, in my perception, is already part of the problem to be finally resolved by the EPO.
Once the referral has actually been made, cases with parties being summoned to oral proceedings by video-conference without their consent will likely be stayed. This will concern quite a lot of cases. Accordingly, I would expect that the EBoA will pick it up as soon as possible, like G 2/19 (Haar vs Munich) which had been resolved in less than five months.
Decision T 1807/15 of 12 March 2021 (see below) refers the following question to the EBoA:
«Is the conduct of oral proceedings in the form of a videoconference compatible with the right to oral proceedings as enshrined in Article 116(1) EPC if not all of the parties to the proceedings have given their consent to the conduct of oral proceedings in the form of a videoconference?»
What is to be hoped for
I am a big fan of oral proceedings in person; see e.g. this Blog here.
Still, I feel it would be a disaster if the EBoA concluded that a whole lot of unsolicited oral proceedings by video-conference during the pandemic were illegal. What I do hope for though is that the EBoA paves the way back to oral proceedings in normal times / after the pandemic as we had been used to have them at the EPO: In person, at least for those who expressly do not consent with video-conferencing.
The best piece of research in this respect that I have seen by now is from Tilman PFRANG, available here.
Further, many submissions have been made during public consultation on the new Art. 15a of the Rules of Procedure of the Boards of Appeal that expressly provides for video-conferencing (at the discretion of the respective Board). Not even a summary of all the submissions is available to date, but quite some associations have made their submissions publicly available. This is a wealth of information on the issue:
If you are aware or come across further publicly available submissions, please let me know and I will include them here.
The (very brief) summary of responses to the online user consultation on Art. 15a has been published earlier today; see here.
Reported by Martin WILMING
T 1807/15 – 3.5.02
Interlocutory Decision of 12 March 2021
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