As something like a pre-Christmas present, the European Patent Office startet off into the bright future of online communication and interaction last week.

On 13 December 2011 a President’s Decision and a related Notice introduced the notification of communication in selected EPO proceedings via online mailboxes (entered into force on 15 December 2011), while a Notice dated 15 December 2011 informed on the newly launched web-based consultation platform for proposed changes to European patent law and practice.

Electronic Notification. On 15 December 2011 the EPO started phasing in electronic notification by initially notifying:

  • the Extended European Search Report (EESR) pursuant Rule 62 EPC, i.e. the European or partial European search report (Art 92, R 61, 63 EPC) plus the European search opinion – or the declaration of no search (R 63 EPC), and
  • the International Search Report (Art 18 PCT), together with the Written Opinion under Rule 43bis PCT.

The initial test phase is planned for the 1st quarter of 2012. In the later course, the EPO will gradually expand electronic notification to include all other pre-grant communications with an initial user group consisting of willing professional representatives holding an EPO smart card and having activated the EPO Mailbox (see Notice). Paper copies will not be provided any more – thus, the Mailbox will in future be the single point of delivery.

Notification is made by an electronic communication to the representative’s EPO mailbox, the e-communication containing a link to the notified document in an EPO database. Notification is deemed to have been effected at the latest on the tenth day after transmission of the electronic communication to the Mailbox.

More information can be found in a brochure covering the whole spectrum of online sevices, such as searching, drafting, online filing, paying fees, accessing publications, and managing files by MyFiles (see FAQ) and the new Mailbox (see FAQ, Quick Reference Guide).

Consulting Platform. The purpose of the new web-based consultation platform for proposed changes to European patent law and practice is to facilitate the early involvement of patent system users in the law-making process of the European Patent Organisation. The EPO will publish on its website preliminary drafts of proposed amendments to the Implementing Regulations, the Rules relating to Fees or to examination practice and by this invite the public to submit comments on these drafts, which are promised to be analysed carefully by the EPO.

The first user consultation issue is a proposed amendment of Rule 53(3) EPC to be discussed from 15 December 2011 until 20 January 2012.

This project truly has the potential to increase transparency and enhance the usefulness of changes for users of the patent system, as hoped by the EPO. As hoped by professional representatives, the amended rules on filing of divisional applications will be dicussed very soon – maybe by way of a suggestion system allowing applicants and presentatives to suggest amendments for discussion. But the sleds of Father Christmas appear to be already empty.

Comments. There should be no doubt that one day the EPO Mailbox will sooner or later be facilitated with upload functionality as well. Usinf the Mailbox will then be made compulsory so that the complete communication between the EPO and its users will exclusively run through this singe-point-of-communication interface. The EPO would then fully benefit from streamlined and automatic communication processes. This was at least the case for the MyPage service of OHIM, a personalised platform providing a range of online solutions for CTM/RCD applicants, such as an e-communication mailbox facility (see here).

However, besides the excitement about modern opportunities to increase efficiency, such consequent ‘electronification’ of services may turn out to be less beneficial for applicants (and their representatives), since the implemented solutions tend to improve internal efficiency by shifting responsibilities, infrastructural issues and work to the applicants and/or representatives.

Clearly, like OHIM before, EPO now starts to shift burden from the office to the applicants/representatives, who will be responsible for setting up and maintaining the required hardware and software infrastructure in order to be able to regularly and reliably access office-sided mailboxes and retrieve official e-mail notifications.

At least from a more principle point of view, such well-meant e-communication approaches may easy tend to – maybe unintentionally – increase anonymity and to hide the office behind an Internet portal. The epi and other observers of the EPO’s “Technical and Operational Support Committee” should keep an eye on these initiatives to make sure that they are of benefit for both EPO and applicants/representatives, just like it was the OAMI user’s group‘s duty in case of MyPage.

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About The Author

Volker 'Falk' Metzler

European Patent Attorney, German 'Patentanwalt', European Trademark and Design Attorney, Computer Scientist, PhD, IP Blogger, Father of Two, Mountain Enthusiast

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