The new normal is here, but the world of Intellectual Property management continues unabated. Deadlines for prosecuting patent applications may be extended in many cases, but by-and-large the filing and examination processes are unchanged.
One major change to proceedings before the European Patent Office is the move to hold hearings with the Examining and Opposition Divisions by video conference, or ViCo. This allows discussions with EPO Examiners to occur without any parties needing to be in the same room, thereby protecting all participants from the risk of infection.
This week, I have participated for the first time in oral proceedings via ViCo, and found it an effective means of communicating with the Examiners.
One of the main concerns applicants have with the use of ViCo compared with physical hearings is that there will be some technological impediment that may lead to subsequent difficulties in obtaining a positive outcome from the hearing.
I am happy to report that the process is smooth; the EPO have put a lot of time and effort into simplifying the ViCo process (ViCo has long been an option for oral proceedings, but the summons to appear in person has always been the default).
The connection was made via the Skype for Business web browser app, and was easy to get started. Furthermore, the EPO offer a pre-hearing test connection to ensure that your settings are suitable well in advance of the real hearing.
All-in-all, the hearing ran much as you would expect from a physical meeting. The Examiners are visible, and therefore it remains possible to take visual cues as to how they are considering your arguments, and the ability to turn video and audio off makes recessions straightforward to implement without any connection loss.
The increase in the use of ViCo hearings can only be beneficial to applicants and professionals. For applicants, the costs involved in attending a physical hearing in Munich or the Hague can be prohibitive, whereas with a ViCo hearing, there may be a greater inclination to fight a more arguable case to grant. For professionals, there is the added benefit that the travelling is removed, and therefore time can be better spent in preparation for the hearing itself.