As of January 1, 2016, the EPO will introduce a revised version of its acceleration programme, called “PACE”. According to the EPO, the revision is “intended to help applicants make better use of the programme and enable the Office to process applications for which accelerated prosecution has been requested as promptly as possible.”

The main features of the new PACE programme are:

i) A PACE request may only be filed for one application at a time. Thus, an applicant who has multiple European applications cannot file a single PACE request for all applications it wishes to accelerate.

ii) A PACE request may be filed only once during each stage of the procedure, i.e. once during search and once during examination. A PACE request filed during search will not also trigger an accelerated examination. A PACE request aimed at accelerating examination may be filed only once the EPO Examining Division becomes responsible for the case.

iii) The EPO will continue not to publish PACE requests and they will continue to be excluded from file inspection. Thus, it will continue not to be possible for third parties to determine whether the applicant of a certain European application has filed a PACE request.

iv) A European application will be definitively removed from the PACE programme if:

  • the PACE request has been withdrawn,
  • the applicant has requested an extension of time limits,
  • the application has been refused,
  • the application has been withdrawn,
  • the application is deemed to be withdrawn.

This applies regardless of any legal remedies available to the applicant in the above circumstances. This means, for example, that if an applicant is unable to file a reply to an Examination Report by the deadline (regardless of whether that deadline has already been extended), and as a result the application is deemed to be withdrawn, then the applicant will be able to continue pursuing the application by filing a request for further processing, paying the relevant fee and submitting the missing reply, but the application will no longer be treated under the PACE programme.

v) Accelerated prosecution will be suspended if the applicant fails to pay the relevant renewal fees by the due date.

As regards search PACE requests, the EPO will try to issue the European search report within 6 months from receipt of the PACE request.

For European applications stemming from a PCT application, the acceleration will start only after expiry of the 6-month period under Rule 161(2) EPC has come to an end. This is unless, when entering the EP phase, the applicant explicitly waives the right to the communication pursuant to Rules 161-162 EPC and pays any claims fees due.

As regards examination PACE requests, the EPO will try to issue its subsequent actions within 3 months of the PACE request and then of the applicant’s reply to each of the EPO’s Examining Division communications.

The PACE programme will therefore continue to represent an important instrument for applicants who are interested in obtaining the grant of their European patent applications quickly, by requesting PACE and at the same time cooperating with the EPO in order to ensure that the application is prosecuted in an efficient manner.

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