Report of the Online Communications Committee
J. Gray (GB), Chair
OCC-EPO annual meeting
OCC had its regular annual meeting with EPO IT and customer support leaders on 9 November 2022. Background to the OCC-EPO meeting was a growing concern among OCC, Presidium and wider membership that the design and deployment of new systems lacks the robust focus on reliability and legal certainty that users expect of the EPO systems. There was also a question whether user participation and feedback yields the expected improvements in functionality or usability, according to the users. These themes were addressed directly in the meeting, so that hopefully participants will have a shared foundation for discussion of specific systems.
MyEPO Portfolio (formerly “New User Area”)
Professional users question the utility of a system that replicates/imitates some but not all functions of a proper case management system. A number of serious issues quickly surfaced as the system came into wider use, beginning with those mentioned in epi Information 2/2022 and continuing with display of erroneous due dates. After the meeting, we are optimistic that the EPO will learn from these. Unpredictable behaviour around past deadlines will be investigated also.
To avoid using regular users as “guinea pigs” for new functions, any major features will be trialled with focus groups, before being released into the mainstream. The portfolio will at long last include cases where a party is Opponent, not proprietor or applicant.
EPO promises pilots of machine-machine interfaces (APIs) early in 2023, which are critical to the utility of the system for volume users.
Decommissioning of legacy Mailbox, MyFiles, Administration Facility is anticipated by June 2024 This seems acceptable when the new system already has all functions of those systems within it.
A drawback at this stage is the incomplete integration of fee payment with the filing tasks. Users familiar with eOLF and OLF 2.0 expect streamlined operation equivalent to the form 1038e in current systems, rather than a backwards step.
OCC reiterated the annoyance caused when non-familiar number formats are displayed in new systems, so that, e.g. application numbers presented by MyEPO are in a form that can’t be pasted into directly to Central Fee Payment.
Administration of users, associations etc.. is facilitated by the new systems, but the new system also exposes how records are out of date as to who is still with which firm, etc.. EPAs, firm administrators and management need to pay better attention to the updating of records of associations, access to portfolios, smart cards etc..
UP and UPC IT infrastructure
There are now forms for UP steps and OCC members have tested these with satisfaction. The procedure looks rather laborious, but then it is simpler than multiple national designations!
OCC continues to support LitCom in submissions to the UPC Preparatory Committee concerning the UPC CMS, critical for managing Opt-out procedures (see also LitCom report in this issue). Members were keen to know whether EPO smart cards could be used as a form of authentication, but
- the familiar EPO smart card will be replaced with a new multifactor authentication platform over the next couple of years.
- UPC has set a higher standard of authentication (with or without) being fully aware of the practical implications.
- UPC decided against making it easy for EPAs to administer opt outs etc, even when EPAs are already appointed by owners for the management of their European patents and will be in the forefront of operations in the Sunrise period and beyond.
Following the switch to web-based systems, designers unfortunately believe that their systems are self-explanatory and therefore no manual is required. We explained this makes it hard for users to practise in advance, making it hard also to ‘train the trainers’.
Good news is that UPC personnel and their IT provider are keen to engage with users directly. The OCC/LitCom working goup set up a forum on an urgent basis for EPAs to share knowledge on the UPC CMS. A different platform would be required to allow interaction with non-members.
Online Filing 2.0 has settled down through the year, with minor improvements being reported through the latest “Release Notes”. The opposition form 2300 is now available in pilot form, with user comments requested. A benefit of the OLF 2.0 system is that it allows colleagues (attorney, trainee, paralegal) to collaborate in online filings while working remotely.
More countries are developing national filing systems based on the new Front Office platform, after the proof of concepts by Lithuania and Spain. EPO want to ‘enable’ all offices to adopt by the end of the Strategic Plan mid-2023. Members will want to ensure their own national offices have Front Office or some other service established as soon as possible, so that there is no rush when, one day, the original OLF system is turned off.
EPO reassured us of its preparedness for power outages in the winter. Rule 134(5) remedies should work for parties who experience local outages.
Legal changes to enable continued “digital transformation” were noted. Any changes in actual practice will be up for discussion later.
EPO plans on decommissioning the existing Smart Cards over a 2-year roadmap (see image). During 2023, eOLF and all existing applications will be updated to use a new two-factor authentication platform. Users will be able to use their smart card and the new authentication system in parallel, so that they can transition gradually to using the new system before the smart cards become useless.
Numerous other topics were discussed, including improvements requested in the Third Party Observations form, digital signatures on assignments, alternatives to fax for “rescue”/emergency filings.
OCC members remain active in various other sub-groups, focus groups and pilots. There are plenty of opportunities for users to participate in pilots and contribute to the success of future systems.
Interacting with the OCC
Thanks always to the 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.