Report of the Online Communications Committee
J. Gray (GB), Chair
In addition to the regular interactions with EPO and other epi bodies (see epi Information 2/2021), OCC members have been busy in various pilots, ‘working groups’, ‘focus groups’ and ‘round tables’, some of which are discussed below. As OCC Chair I have joined in epi Board meetings and in the regular ‘bilateral’ meetings with the EPO president and his team.
2. Decommissioning of online filing (CMS) 31 December 2021
Users of the CMS online filing system were forced to switch in short order to Online Filing 2.0. In view of various issues encountered or anticipated by users of all sizes, epi suggested that the closure of CMS should be delayed for a time while the functionality of OLF 2.0 is still developing to what CMS currently offers. EPO’s VP1 Steve Rowan and Chief Information Officer Diego Eguidazu Alonso kindly met with me and epi President Francis Leyder on 22 December, to explain honestly why this was just not possible. We then discussed what measures are being taken to reduce stress and risk for representatives and their clients, as reported on the epi website (News item 23 Dec 2021).
3. Online Filing 2.0
Former CMS users are adapting to OLF 2.0, although the great majority of applications are still filed via the old client-server system eOLF. The EPO continues to improve OLF 2.0, as evidenced by the “Release Notes” issued whenever there is an update. A dedicated opposition form 2300 will be provided soon, which addresses one major headache. We have put on record our disappointment that the OLF2.0 system seemed rather half-finished when launched, especially when transition from CMS was forced upon users.
4. DOCX filing
Filing of application documents in DOCX format at the EPO is possible as a pilot only, for participating users within the OLF 2.0 system. USPTO, INPI(FR), WIPO, JPO and KIPO have launched similar programmes, with differing degrees of success.
Following initiatives from epi, several meetings have been arranged with EPO experts to identify the issues. Led by Ronny Vavrin, we have identified many issues for the group to explore in more detail. Even the simple question “what is DOCX?” has no simple answer, neither in terms of technical format nor content. In January, “Round Table” meetings with EPO and WIPO experts were joined by several OCC members and Marjut Honkasalo for EPPC. The work addressed three (overlapping) areas:
- Legal and policy
- Drafting and amending technical documents
- Business change, workflows and future tools
Marjut, David Brophy and I reported as “rapporteurs” to the eSACEPO meeting (below). The problem is not how to define a system. The problem is how to define a system that is easier for both the office and the users, and legally and technically sound. Credit to the EPO for facilitating this deeper study.
5. New User Area (final name to be decided…)
Several OCC members/associates and other epi members have continued to participate in the focus groups around a new user portal for integrating current Mailbox etc & My Files functions with post-filing procedural actions. The pilot has (finally!) been extended to paralegals, and management of multi-user roles will be enabled shortly. The plan is to launch the system for general use in May 2022, which leaves not much time for intensive testing and feedback by this new user group. (After all, paralegals are likely to be the real power-users.) You and your teams are encouraged to get involved and give feedback during the pilot. (https://www.epo.org/applying/online-services/improving/user-area-services.html)
We continue to question the utility of a system that replicates/imitates some but not all functions of a proper case management system. The benefit of the new system may make more sense, as and when more functions are added. For its part, we think that the EPO understands now that machine-machine interfaces (APIs) are critical to the utility of any system, for volume users. The new system also promises to support alternative authentication methods, besides smart cards.
A drawback at this stage is the lack of integration of fee payment with the other tasks: once the “task” (e.g. a response to a Rule 71(3) letter is “completed” in this system, the user still needs to go elsewhere to pay the requisite fee (see also below)).
6. eSACEPO – SACEPO Working Group on the Electronic Patent Process
The meeting of eSACEPO was held online on 17 February 2022. This group includes key management and experts from within the EPO, several members of OCC, as well as participants from industry and private practice in China, Japan, Korea and USA, other representatives from epi and European business organisations and a paralegal.
The agenda covered the following topics, most of which had slide presentations which are available for anyone interested:
- EPO Strategic Plan – Update
- Oral proceedings in examination and opposition by VICO
- New Online User Engagement programme
- Online filing 2.0
- IT cooperation projects – including new “Front Office” for national filings
- E-business Patent Grant Process
- Central Fee Payment – Update and further steps
- Update on DOCX
- Patent Information systems (Register, Espacenet)
- User Enquiries & Intelligence
- Unitary Patent
Two screenshots from the meeting are shown below, followed by more detail on just a couple of agenda topics for further discussion.
7. Central Fee Payment
This project has been generally successful and brings together the diversity of payment mechanisms in a good and more real-time manner. On the other hand, in eSACEPO we pressed the case that the Central Fee Payment platform must not be seen as a substitute for properly integrating fee payment into the new online filing systems for substantive & procedural steps. It was always promised that this development would serve as a platform (back-end), from which payments can be integrated into those EPO systems that already have payment integrated one way or the other.
In eSACEPO we learned that the existing fee payment functions will be turned off ‘as soon as’ the last piece of functionality for automatic debit order users is added to the new Central Payment platform (expected during September 2022). This allows zero transition time for those users (approx. 10%) who rely on such functions. No matter how wonderful the new system is, and how few users are directly affected, users need time to develop and test robust procedures, before being forced to switch systems at short notice.
8. New “Front Office” for national filings
The new system developed in collaboration between EPO, NPOs and our own Ben Grau is looking good – we saw demonstrations (see screenshot). It is expected that eventually more countries will use this even than use eOLF at present. Lithuania and Spain are in advanced stages. Another tranche of 6 countries should come on board during 2022. EPO want to ‘enable’ all offices to adopt by end of Strategic Plan mid-2023. The offices will hopefully progress this willingly, but of course they cannot be forced. Any closure of eOLF must be delayed until new systems replicate functionality for all users, and a long sunset period should be allowed.
9. Interacting with the OCC
The above is only highlights of our activities.
Thanks always to the epi members who report to us the random issues they face with EPO IT systems. You can submit issues and information directly to the OCC Chair at OCC@patentepi.org.