For the first time, in March of this year the EPO has issued a new guidebook for prosecuting European patent cases. The new guidebook is called “Handbook of quality procedures before the EPO”.

According to the EPO, the Handbook is “the result of an intensive and purposeful co-operation between the EPO, epi and BusinessEurope” – i.e. the association of European patent attorneys and the association made up by the central industrial and employers’ federations from several European countries representing small, medium and large companies.

As a result of this co-operation, the Handbook is meant to contain information reflecting the interests and needs of both the EPO, on the one side, and the professionals and companies interacting with the EPO, on the other side, as well as the interests of the public. The EPO President Mr. Batistelli states that “the Handbook aims to provide a guide to preferred practices endorsed by both the EPO and user representatives”. It is hoped that it will increase the quality of European patent applications, as well as of any communications to and from the EPO, with a view to achieving efficient prosecution of the cases handled by the EPO. Nevertheless, it is important to keep in mind that the Handbook is not binding on any of the EPO officers or users, and there are no procedural sanctions or disciplinary measures for departing from any practice outlined in it. For this reason, too, the Handbook introduction states that it should not be quoted in any communications exchanged between the EPO and its users.

The Handbook is meant not just for applicants and their European patent attorneys, but also for all EPO officers, ranging from examiners to formalities officers. Unlike the Guidelines for Examination in the EPO, which have existed for a long time and which are almost 600 pages long, the Handbook is meant to be a more practical document and includes only about 60 pages. It is divided into 8 main chapters, relating to online filing, fees, filing patent applications with the EPO, EPO communications and replies, oral proceedings in examination, revocation and limitation, opposition and complaints.

The Handbook contains quite useful and interesting information which may also help non-European applicants and attorneys appreciate any practical differences between the EPO and other Patent Offices. For example, on the topic of interviews, which are quite usual before other Patent Offices, the Handbook indicates that “The examiner should decide whether an interview is appropriate. Depending on the objections on file and the time frame, he may suggest that holding oral proceedings would appear more appropriate. This is in particular the case where a negative decision is likely.” Thus, from this simple statement it is already quite clear that, at present, the EPO treats the arrangement of interviews with great care, and often encourages the arrangement of formal oral proceedings rather than the arrangement of an informal interview.

The Handbook will certainly provide useful guidance for applicants to interact with the EPO, and may in many cases help reduce pendency times for those cases where the applicant is interested in obtaining speedy grant of its European patents.

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