Conducting Oral Proceedings in Examination by Video Conference - Current trends

Report from the Survey of the OCC, by Florian Stöckle (DE), member of OCC

In October 2018, the Online Communications Committee (OCC) of the EPI conducted an online survey to gather user experience and opinions on this topic. We would like to thank the more than 500 participants that took part in the survey.

Summarizing the results of the survey, users in general experience very few technical issues with video conferencing. The adoption of a unified software solution that enables online document filing would be welcomed by many users.

The following user comments are examples of the focus areas of the comments received:

"Video-conferenced Oral Proceedings are an extremely valuable tool, particularly in terms of value for the client. They are effective and reduce costs. I believe the present implementation can only be improved upon with the addition of filing functionality and greater availability."

"Requests to use video conferencing should be accepted as standard, unless there is a very good reason why it would be near-impossible to do so, due to the environmental impact caused by the representative having to travel to Munich, Berlin or The Hague to attend oral proceedings in person. Judging by the Environmental and Sustainability part of the EPO's Principles regarding Social Responsibility, it would appear that this concern of mine is aligned with the principles of the EPO."

"The criteria for refusing a videoconference at present do not seem to be applied uniformly. One gets the impression that some EDs refuse to hold a videoconference in nearly every case, while others never (or very rarely) refuse. Maybe the request for videoconference does not always need to be allowed, but refusal should be exceptional, and the reasoning should be detailed and convincing."

"Whereas Examining Divisions in The Hague almost always accept requests for Oral Proceedings by videoconference, the Ex.Div. in Berlin are much more relucant to use vidcons. Instead, they frequently inform us that a decision whether the request for a vidcon can take place will only be allowed after they are in receipt of our submission one month prior to the oral proceedings. This, however, is really inconvenient in view of flight and travel accomodations."

In a meeting of the OCC with a delegation of the EPO in October 2018, the EPO underlined that it supports video conferencing which avoids expensive travel costs to users. Examiners are encouraged to use this way of communication and the number of available video conferencing facilities have been increased in The Hague as well as in Munich.

Furthermore the EPO is in the process of shifting to Voice over IP internally using Skype for Business. It is envisaged to extend the usage of Skype for Business to Oral Proceedings, which would e.g. allow each member of the Examining Division to participate in a common video conferencing room or from each of their work places separately, such that non-availability of video conferencing rooms should then no longer be an issue. The EPO also expressed that physical oral proceedings will of course always remain possible.

Results of the online survey and full statistics can be found on the epi website: