With an overwhelming majority of votes by the member states of the European Patent Organization, the Organization’s Administrative Council has decided to reform its Boards of Appeal while of course remaining within the framework of the European Patent Convention.

The European Patent Organization has agreed on a comprehensive reform proposed by the European Patent Office (EPO). The proposal is aimed at enhancing the Boards’ efficiency as well as strengthening how the Boards’ independence is perceived, specifically by increasing the Boards’ management autonomy.

This reform is of fundamental importance because the Boards of Appeal are responsible for ruling on appeals of decisions taken by the EPO on European patent applications (e.g. following first instance examination proceedings) and European patents (following opposition proceedings). The Boards’ case law influences the subsequent handling of European patent applications and patents, and of course the Boards’ decisions are crucial to the business plans of all parties involved in appeal proceedings.

According to EPO President Benoît Battistelli, the decision taken by the European Patent Organization “finally achieves a reform of the EPO’s appeal system which was envisaged for many years. After two attempts of reform which failed in 1995 and 2004, this is a historic achievement.” President Battistelli also said that “[i]ncreasing both the perception of independence and the efficiency of the [Boards of Appeal] is essential for securing trust and confidence in the EPO’s appeal system and for maintaining its long-term sustainability”.

The reform means that the current Boards will be reorganized as a unit within the European Patent Office. This unit will be managed by a President of the BoAs. This position does not currently exist and will be created as a result of the reform. The President of the unit will be responsible solely to the Administrative Council of the European Patent Organization, and not to the EPO President.

Furthermore, the reform entails the creation of a new subsidiary committee of the Administrative Council, called the Boards of Appeal Committee. This committee will represent a link between the Administrative Council and the Boards’ unit. The committee will provide the President of the unit with advice on organization and management issues, comprising general advice on the performance of the Boards.

Still within the framework of this reform, the EPO President will transfer to the President of the unit all managerial powers connected with that unit. The President of the unit will also act as chairperson of the EPO’s Enlarged Board of Appeal, i.e. the highest instance within the European Patent Convention system. Another goal of the reform is to enhance the Boards’ efficiency, thereby increasing the cost coverage of the unit in the coming years.

According to the reform, there will also be a specific career system for the members and chairpersons of the Boards of Appeal, as well as new provisions concerning their post-service employment aimed at ensuring that the integrity of the EPO’s appeal system is guaranteed by preventing potential conflicts of interest.

Finally, and still in the context of the reform, the Boards’ seat will be in a new location in Munich, Germany, in a separate building from those of the EPO.

This reform will surely achieve the goal of reassuring users of the EPO system of the independence of the Boards of Appeal, and it will also address the users’ need for speedy and efficient proceedings, given the very high stakes at play in European patent matters.

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