New rules were introduced on April 1, 2010 by the EPO aimed at shortening the time needed for the grant of an European patent application.

A fist major change was to oblige the applicant to file a reply to the search opinion or written opinion provided with the European search report (ESR) or the International search report.
Under the new system, when the EPO issues a ESR for a European application, a reply to the ESR needs now to be filed. Nonetheless, it is important to note that the response to the various search reports is only mandatory if the EPO has identified deficiencies in the merits.
With this new system, the search or written opinion prepared by the EPO takes the place of the 1st Examination Report, leading to an earlier grant of the patents.

A second major change relating to divisional practice will come into force on October 1st, 2010.
In fact, until now, European divisional applications could be filed at any time provided the parent European application was pending. Under the new system, the EPO has now set time limits within which divisionals can be filed and has made a distinction between so-called “voluntary” and “mandatory” divisional applications. Voluntary divisionals are divisionals filed by the applicant at his own volition and can be filed within 2 years from the 1st communication issued by the EPO Examining Division (ED) for the parent case. On the contrary, mandatory divisionals are divisional applications arguably filed by the applicant in order to overcome a lack of unity objection raised by the EPO for the parent application. Mandatory divisionals can be filed within 2 years from the 1st EPO ED communication issued for the parent case in which the EPO raises a lack of unity objection not previously raised.

Applicants of European patent applications should therefore use these last weeks in order to check on their applications and decide how to proceed since the new divisional system will greatly limit the possibility to file divisional applications.

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