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Despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the European Patent Office’s (EPO) Board of Appeals saw a successful 2020, offsetting the impact of the pandemic with decreases to its case backlog and pendency time for cases, according to the Annual Report 2020 of the Boards of Appeal.
The number of pending cases was reduced by 954 last year, cutting the overall backlog at the office down to 8,280 cases pending at the end of December 2020—10.3% fewer than the same time in 2019.
Alongside this, the EPO succeeded in reducing the pendency time of cases throughout the year, with 90% of cases settled within 60 months, compared to 65 months during 2019.
“Despite the specific challenges we faced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we never lost sight of our objective to reduce case backlog and pendency,” president of the board of appeals Carl Josefsson iterated “I wish to express my sincere gratitude to the entire staff of the Boards of Appeal for making this possible.”
Changes at the board
Experiences with oral proceedings over video conferencing were “very positive” according to the report. Between May and August, 44 oral proceedings were held by videoconference, and this rose to 173 by the end of the year.
“The successful introduction of oral proceedings by videoconference in response to the constraints of the COVID-19 situation has provided an incentive to expressing the legal framework for the conduct of oral proceedings by videoconference, including the possibility of the board not requiring the parties’ consent, in the Rules of Procedure of the Boards of Appeal,” the report added.
The legality of video conference hearings at the EPO was called into question by the IP sector following its introduction. The issue was further exacerbated with an announcement in November that video conference proceedings will become mandatory until September 2021, even without the consent of all the affected parties.
The Enlarged Board of Appeals is set to review the legality of the proceedings next month.
The beginning of 2020 also saw the introduction of the revised Rules of Procedures of the Boards of Appeal, which saw Articles 1-25 of the rules amended to increase efficiency for parties.
In April, the amended Rule 103 EPC was introduced, allowing new opportunities for parties to claim partial reimbursement of the appeal fee. Rates for reimbursement prior to the amendments were either 100% or 50%, and the amended rule introduced two further partial reimbursements rates of 75% and 25%.
Overall, 3,013 cases were settled, a 7.4% drop off year on year. However, this still represents an increase of 35.2% since pre-2017.
The percentage of backlog cases (cases not settled in 30 months) made up 36.7% of total pending cases before the board in 2020, a slight increase from 33.2% in 2019.
A total of 2,059 technical appeal cases were received by the Board of Appeal in 2020, 37.5% fewer than in 2019.
“An increase in productivity to levels prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic will mainly depend on being able to return to a normal working environment, in particular on being able to schedule and hold oral proceedings at the normal pace,” the report said.
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EPO, Board of Appeals, Carl Josefsson, patents