As we all know the EPO recently changed its procedure in front of first-instance departments such that handwritten amendments are no longer accepted in documents replacing parts of the European patent application. As well as written communications this change also applies to amendments made during oral proceedings and during oppositions.
The EPO website has now been updated with a list of frequently asked questions directed at some of the issues and questions that have been raised since the practice change was announced.
The FAQs explain that the change is tied into the EPO’s modernization of its IT systems and the need for documents to be available in a form recognizable by OCR software. Failure to follow the new practice will result in documents being considered formally deficient and applicants will be given an opportunity to remedy the deficiency within a given time limit. If the deficiency remains (after the “remedy” time limit has expired) then the EPO may refuse or deem the application withdrawn.
Handwritten amendments may still be used, e.g. in an “information only” copy of the specification that is submitted in addition to the clean copy of the amended specification documents. However, the clean copy of the specification documents needs to be free from any such handwritten amendments.
As far as oral proceedings are concerned the practice notice notes that handwritten amendments may still be used as a basis for discussion during the proceedings but once agreement has been reached then a clean copy needs to be submitted and no final decision will be possible until that is done.
If oral proceedings are held by video conference then documents can be submitted by email according to the EPO President’s Decision of 20 April 2012. (Note the FAQs page currently links to the wrong Decision).
The FAQs are, of course, silent on the concerns raised within the EPO itself with regard to the new procedure. At a recent EPO/epi meeting it was noted that the Boards of Appeal don’t appreciate the new procedure on handwritten amendments as they believe that the opportunity (either by accident or design) of introducing further amendments that the Board/appeal party might overlook is a negative that outweighs the positives of the new practice.
Mark Richardson 1 May 2014