Attending ViCo Oral Proceedings as a Member of the Public
C. Mercer (GB)
A number of enquires have been received regarding attending ViCo oral proceedings as a member of the public. My understanding of the situation, following discussions with the EPO, is as follows.
As in face-to-face oral proceedings the Guidelines at GL E-III, 8.1 are followed.
Members of the public can follow oral proceedings held by videoconference remotely upon giving prior notice. The request must be submitted via email to the EPO at email@example.com at least three working days prior to the date indicated in the summons to oral proceedings. A ticket is created and this is placed in the non-public part of the file. This means the Opposition Division or Board knows who plans to attend as member of the public. This information is only used in exceptional situations e.g. where the observer does not behave appropriately and the Division or Board needs to ascertain who that person is.
Members of the public attending oral proceedings by ViCo are advised to identify themselves as being a member of the public by entering a user name starting with “PUBLIC” after launching the ViCo platform. Neither the Division nor the Board checks the ID of the member of the public during the oral proceedings.
Participation of the member of the public is restricted to listening to the sound and watching the images transmitted during the videoconference. The member of the public must not switch on his or her microphone or camera, unless requested to do so by the chair. Members of the public are not entitled to speak or otherwise become involved in the videoconference (e.g. by entering messages in the chat box), unless specifically invited to do so by the chair.
Regarding anonymity, as mentioned on the EPO website about public access, point B-3:
"If so requested by the chairperson, the member of the public must temporarily switch on their camera to allow the videoconference participants to ascertain their identity just as if they were taking part in person on the premises of the EPO".
This will only be done in exceptional cases and merely makes the ViCo situation correspond to the situation for face-to-face oral proceedings where the member of the public can be seen. However, the ID of the member of the public is not checked, as is the case in face-to-face oral proceedings.
The member of the public can use any name to be displayed in the ViCo oral proceedings. In order to help the Division or Board to identify who is a member of the public and who is a party to the oral proceedings, the FAQ published by the EPO on the internet advises members of the public to enter a name starting with PUBLIC (https://www.epo.org/service-support/faq/procedure-law/oral-proceedings-by-videoconference.html). Therefore, is not only possible but even recommended to use a name which does not identify the member of the public to the Division, Board or parties. Thus, Buzz Lightyear could be the identity of the member of the public!
The easiest way to achieve anonymity is join the ViCo with name “PUBLIC”. However, be aware that changing name in Zoom® before entering the meeting is sometimes a bit cumbersome. Zoom® has the tendency to keep the information from your last connection and does not ask how you want your name to appear. The box "remember my name" is crossed by default in Zoom® and people do forget to uncross it. Therefore, if you have already had an oral proceedings via Zoom® representing a party, then your real name might appear once you connect. It is therefore advisable to become familiar with changing your name in Zoom® before connecting. It depends on the way you connect so you should check on the internet how to do so.
In summary, attending ViCo oral proceedings as an anonymous member of the public is possible but you need to make sure that you understand Zoom® before you unwittingly give away your identity.