The EPO has announced that EPO Opposition hearings will now be held by videoconference as the default until 15 September 2021. 

In view of the COVID pandemic, this is not an unsurprising announcement. The EPO has been successfully holding Examining Division hearings by videoconference for some time, as well as a number of Opposition Division hearings. Having expanded their technology, the EPO now has the capability to offer simultaneous translation during videoconference oral proceedings, which had previously been a major hurdle to running some Opposition hearings by videoconference. An increased number of participants is also possible now. Nonetheless, the option remains to request an in-person hearing in cases where there are "serious reasons" to avoid a videoconference hearing.

Overall, this is excellent news - it ensures that in-person hearings scheduled from 4 January 2021 will be able to go ahead remotely, regardless of international travel restrictions and isolation rules which may be in effect at the time. Indeed, one of the EPO's main aims here is to avoid a continuous increase in the the number of unresolved oppositions. Whilst this is billed as a "pilot scheme" at present, it would not be at all surprising if videoconference hearings become the norm in the future, pandemic or not. The key question is whether the Boards of Appeal of the EPO will follow suit. Watch this space!

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