On 15 March 2020* the European Patent Office announced that in view of the disruptions arising from the COVID-19 outbreak, time limits expiring on or after that date were to be extended until 17 April 2020 under Rule 134(2) EPC*.
It also set out the conditions for further extensions where the failure to observe time limits is the result of exceptional circumstances beyond the applicant's control and may therefore be invoked by any applicants, parties to proceedings or their representatives affected by the disruption in the areas affected by the outbreak.
The EPO has set out that the extension of time limits under these provisions applies to all periods provided for under the EPC and the PCT; according to established principles of procedural law, a time limit involves a period of a fixed length for accomplishing a procedural act.
The EPO have now issued a further notice* indicating that the principles outlined above also apply to periods for paying fees, including the due date for paying renewal fees. In line with the new notice, an extension to 20 April 2020 is available for any renewal fees with a due date of 31 March 2020.
The safeguards outlined by the EPO do not however apply to procedural acts which must be performed under specific conditions – these include:
- the filing of a divisional application under Article 76 EPC*
- the final date for making written submissions in preparation for oral proceedings under Rule 116 EPC*
As of 1 April, the EPO have also updated their COVID-19 information pages* to state that oral proceedings will not be held in the premises of the Boards of Appeal until 30 April 2020. Concerned parties will be contacted by the EPO directly.
There are still aspects of the EPO's notices which are not immediately clear and need further interpretation. We therefore advise checking any extensions with us on a case by case basis. Please contact us to check the deadline of any specific time limit you may need to extend so that we can advise you accordingly.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.