Virtual hearings: Legality goes online


Muireann Bolger

Virtual hearings: Legality goes online


As the European Patent Office enforces virtual hearings—even without the consent of all affected parties—its stance has fuelled controversy and a legal challenge. Muireann Bolger reports.

The COVID-19 pandemic has confirmed that technology can deliver effective virtual interaction in many different scenarios. Over the past year, remote technology has become an essential tool for courts to ensure the continuation of judicial proceedings.

But the widespread adoption of virtual hearings—and speculation about their possible expansion beyond the pandemic—has prompted concerns about whether litigants’ rights and their access to justice may be adversely affected.

In April 2020, the European Patent Office (EPO) created a pilot project allowing oral proceedings in opposition cases to be carried out exclusively by videoconference to avoid a growing backlog of cases. Before the pandemic, video hearings were granted only under “exceptional circumstances”.

European Patent Office, virtual hearings, COVID-19, technology, pandemic, Bugnion, CIPA, Appleyard Lees, HGF, The Hague