For several years now, it has been possible to attend Oral Proceedings with the Examination Division of the European Patent Office by video-conference. Despite this extended availability, this ipcopywriter found that there was surprisingly little information online about how these are carried out, and so provides an account of a recent experience below.
The Guidelines set out how the EPO handle video-conference requests in the Examination Division. Needless to say, a video-conference is only allowed if there are no third parties involved (i.e. not for Opposition Oral Proceedings).
Preferably, a request for Oral Proceedings to be held as a video-conference should be made as early as possible. However, due to the circumstances of this case, final client approval to attend the Oral Proceedings, and hence our request for a video-conference, was made three working days before the date of proceedings (we had filed Written Submissions on time).
Somewhat speculatively, we filed our request stating that we wished to use “IP technology” (as opposed to the older ISDN), and with a comment to the effect that we considered that the subject matter and complexity of the case were suitable for a video-conference. This was in an attempt to leave the only reason for refusal as the lack of availability of a suitably-equipped room in Munich.
We found the EPO very accommodating and received an amended Summons granting our request the following day by fax.
It could be said that the information provided by the EPO is unhelpful to Applicants and Representatives who are new to the EPO’s video-conferencing arrangements. The Summons reiterated the 2012 OJ notice regarding the addition of IP technology, stating that the requirements are:
IP technology (SIP or H.323, videocoding CIF H.261, H.263, H.264, audiocoding G.711, G.722, max. transmission rate 1024 Kbit/s). Your video-conferencing equipment should meet a minimum transmission rate of at least 256 Kbit/s, but at least 384 Kbit/s is preferred.
The Summons also provided the specific IP address, phone and fax numbers for the EPO room our Examiners would be using.
Here we would agree with Berni Hambleton’s article (page 141 CIPA Journal, March 2014), that the above information does not provide a clear indication of what is required. In short, however, after sifting through the comments on a related IPKat post as well as the independent work of our in-house IT team, we determined that a software based solution could be used with an existing webcam.
We tested both Polycom RealPresence Desktop and the open source Ekiga and successfully connected to the EPO’s test system, email@example.com. We found that the best results were obtained using the H.323 setting with a maximum bandwidth of 768 Kbit/s. Some of our network firewall settings also had to be changed to allow the appropriate traffic through. YMMV.
On the day of the proceedings, we encountered no technical difficulties whatsoever. We called the designated IP address, the Examining Division answered and were ready to begin. The Representative had to present his passport to the camera to verify his identity.
During the frequent recesses, the Examination Division muted their microphone and turned their camera away, and we followed suit. The video quality was smooth and the audio was clear for the three hour duration of the proceedings.
For what it’s worth, the outcome was that we were able to convince the Examining Division that one of our Auxiliary Requests was allowable.
Admittedly, this ipcopywriter has no basis to compare the video-conference against in-person proceedings. However, there are clear benefits for Applicants and Representatives, the most obvious being the elimination of travel costs and the reduction in time out of the office.
Going forwards, for most cases, it’s worth considering requesting Oral Proceedings by video-conference in the boiler plate text of responses to the EPO.
Laurence Lai 18 December 2014
Comment received from Alan Clarke on LinkedIn (reproduced here with permission)
Sounds like things went fairly smoothly. I’ve heard of others having more difficulty with the technical arrangements (signal breaking up etc.) I presume that, as one of your auxiliary requests was accepted, there was no need for on-the-spot amendments to be made. If this hadn’t been the case, then are the EPO content for you to email such amendments in?
Hi Alan, the Aux Request that was accepted was actually an on-the-spot submission. Whilst the Guidelines state that amendments may be filed by email, it appeared that our Examining Division didn’t have a computer handy. So we ended up faxing the Aux Request to the fax machine that was available in the room the Examiners were using, and the rapporteur stepped out to make photocopies during a recess.