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Consultation on the proposed changes to the RPBA20

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The „consultation “about a possible change to specific articles of the RPBA raises a number of issues. Some are not controversial, some are however highly controversial.

The change in Art 13(2) RPBA20

The only amendment which is not controversial in the present “consultation” is that of Art 13(2) RPBA20 which states that the trigger of the third level of convergence is the communication according to Art 15(1) RPBA21. The proposed amendment does not change the present situation.

The changes in Art 12(1) RPBA20 and Art 15(1) RPBA20

The two other changes aiming at Art 12(1) RPBA20 and Art 15(1) RPBA20 are much more controversial and should not be implemented.

There has not been shown in the slightest that those changes are indeed necessary. “To support the pursuit of more ambitious timeliness objectives” is not a reason sufficient to shorten the time limits at stake. Timeliness might be an important factor, but it is not the determining factor. Such a statement does not define a compelling case requiring amendment.

No figures have been provided whatsoever which could justify the amendments thought.

What has been the evolution of the average time per appeal case in inter-partes procedures over the years? This figures should in any case be normalised in order to take into account the absence of recruitment at the boards for many years.

What would the change actually bring in matters of “more ambitious timeline objectives”? It is only if it can be shown that the measures bring about a large change to the present situation, that this kind of measures should be envisaged.

“To support the pursuit of more ambitious timeliness objectives” might represent an aim for the office and its boards, but is most probably not inducing any improvement for the parties in general and the respondents in particular.

The change in Art 12(1) RPBA20

Reducing, ab initio, the time limit for replying to the statement of grounds of appeal is plainly detrimental to respondents. The appellant has four months to file its statement of grounds of appeal, whereas according to the new Art 12(1) RPBA, the respondent would only have, to start with, two months. Whilst two months might be acceptable when only formal matters have to be dealt with, a minimum of four months appears to be a bare minimum when it comes to substantial matters.

Reducing ex officio the time limit for replying to the statement of grounds of appeal for respondents is actually distorting the balance between the parties in inter-partes appeal procedures. The balance between the parties to the appeal procedure is too precious an asset to be sacrificed on the altar of a supposedly increase of the efficiency of the boards.

Reducing the time limit for replying means also an increase of costs for representation for the respondents. If a representative has to work under pressure, it is clear that the representations costs will increase as the shorter time limit has to be taken into account.

With the upcoming of the UPC, the increase of representation costs due to the short time limits of the procedure before the UPC has been amply discussed in the profession. The necessity for the EPO to go along the same path as the UPC is not understandable.

The EPO is always insisting upon the benefits of the EP system for SMEs. It should then refrain from increasing the costs for the respondents, especially when those are SMEs. Even with the reduced appeal fee for SMEs, indirect costs should also not be increased.

It is true that “any respondent will be able to request an extension of the period up to a maximum of six months in accordance with Article 12(7)”, but the extension of the time limit is left to the discretion of each board. Here the problems start.

Handling of the discretion by various boards

One of the problems induced by the RPBA20 is the large discretion given to the boards. Case law has shown that the discretion of the boards has been exercised in very different ways by different boards.

As examples it is possible to quote the exercise of the discretion given in Art 15a(1) RPBA21 or the different ways boards handle the admissibility of deletions/ combinations of claims under the RPBA20.

Some well-established lines of case law in substantial matters, which were a guarantee for parties are suffering due to the RPBA. The change from a lack of N to a lack of IS once a board has decided that N is given, is still not considered a new ground of opposition, but is now considered a late submission and therefore not admitted in the procedure. It is a catch 22 situation for the opponent which is faced with a decision he could not anticipate when he drafted its statement of grounds of appeal. 

As there is no way to check whether the discretion has been correctly applied by the boards, there should not be a further increase of the discretion offered to the boards. Clear limits to the discretion of the boards should rather be introduced.

The appeal procedure should be reliable and predictable, also in procedural matters, and the fate of an application/patent should not depend procedurally wise from the board in charge of the case. .

Circumventing the shortening of the time limit 

One way to circumvent the shortening of the time limit to reply to the statement of grounds of appeal would be for all parties in opposition to systematically file an appeal. Such an appeal can later be withdrawn, with the possibility of a partial reimbursement of the appeal fee. The sooner the withdrawal, the higher the reimbursement of the appeal fee. But in the meantime, the time limit for replying to the statement of grounds of appeal of the other party would have been extended.

It is doubtful that such a way of doing, which would be perfectly legal, would at all improve the situation.

This way of doing would be analogous to the situation in the past under PCT Chapter II. Applicants filed a demand under the PCT Chapter II, but lots of them did not react to any communication, so as to simply benefit from a longer delay for entering the regional phase. For large companies this might not be a problem, but it is certainly a problem for SMEs as they do not have the same financial possibilities.

Even if the appeal fee is not covering the actual costs of an appeal, inducing parties to file an appeal when they actually merely want to reply to the appeal of an adversary does not appear reasonable.

The corresponding appeal fees do not appear necessary in order to improve the financial situation of the EPO.

The change in Art 15(1) RPBA20

Instead of two months, the boards might now summon to OP one month after having received the reply to the appeal.

It is difficult to see how an “early notification of a summons to oral proceedings is purely beneficial for parties and representatives, who can make the necessary arrangements”. the contrary seems true. Neither the parties nor their representatives will benefit from the change. “Necessary arrangements” will not be made easier when the time limit is shortened.

The amendment to Art 15(1) RPBA20 has for direct effect to start the application of the third level of convergence earlier. In other words, the purpose of this amendment is clearly to avoid parties filing further submissions after the second level of convergence has been entered.

The second level of convergence already puts a halt to the admissibility of late submissions. Why is it then necessary to further shorten the time of entrance in the third level of convergence?

In the case of accelerated appeal proceedings, a reduction of the time limit for sending the summons to OP appears reasonable. Why should this exceptional circumstance become a standard? How many requests for accelerated appeal proceedings are filed a year? When looking at published decisions, they appear rather infrequent.

In the explanatory remarks for the change it is stated that “where there is more than one party the Board may only apply a shorter timescale for issuing the communication if all the appellants consent to a shorter timescale being adopted”. This not what the rule says and there is no guarantee whatsoever that the boards will act accordingly.

This is best demonstrated by the following sentence: “A longer timescale remains at the discretion of the Board considering all the circumstances of the case”. As far as the discretion given to the boards is concerned, please see above.

The explanatory comments mention “all the appellants”. It fails to mention the respondents, or does the wording “all the appellants” means “all parties to appeal”. There is a big difference between the two meanings. It should be expected that all parties to appeal are concerned, not just “the appellants”. 


The necessity of the proposed changes to the RPBA20 is anything but apparent. There is actually no compelling case which justifies any of the changes proposed.

Working under an exacerbated time pressure cannot be considered as being “purely beneficial for parties and representatives”. As explained above here, it increases the costs for the parties, but to what avail?

I would simply refer to an older say: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it

It will be interesting to see what the boards will make with the result of the present consultation. Past experiences allow the reasonable conclusion that results which are not along the envisaged line are more or less ignored or at best belittled.   


3 replies on “Consultation on the proposed changes to the RPBA20”


Given that – according to the Boards’ Annual Report 2022 – around 30% of cases have a pendency of over 30 months, and that even at 56 months (!) still 10% of cases remain pending – it is difficult to see how putting yet more pressure on the parties to proceedings is going to do anything to result in greater timeliness of decisions.

The Board really ought to look closer to home to fix its problems first, before essentially blaming the users.

For those with deep enough pockets this is simply going to drive opposition actions away from the EPO, and towards filing revocation actions at the UPC. This leaves the EPO as a cheaper but much slower, second-best option for less important opposition cases or for users with less money; and for applicants who have no other recourse than the Boards of Appeal when they feel their application has been wrongly rejected by the Examining Division. It is difficult to see how this is anything other than counterproductive for the Boards as a whole and for the issue of legal certainty and administration of justice.

The proposed measures might just about be more palatable if they were accompanied by a binding commitment on the Boards to meet particular timeliness objectives, but they are not. To the extent that any timeliness objectives are enshrined in the RPBA already, these merely relate to non-binding “endeavours” to issue summons to Oral Proceedings, and preliminary opinions, within particular timeframes. In the latter case, at least, this provision seems to be honoured more in the breach than in the observance as I frequently see Boards issuing their preliminary opinions less than 4 months before the oral proceedings, and sometimes even as little as one month. I sometimes get the feeling that some Boards see their users and the concept of due process as nuisances that they would rather go without.

Avatar photoDaniel X. Thomassays:

The problem of the pendency of files before the boards is clearly due to the fact that recruitment has been halted for many years. The right to submit candidates used to belong exclusively to the president of the office.

It is still only upon delegation from the president of the EPO, that the president of the BA shall exercise the right to propose the members, including the chairmen, of the Boards of Appeal and the members of the EBA for appointment by the AC, and the right to be consulted (sic) on their re-appointment. The conditions for re-appointment are still not public, but like in first instance, production/productivity seems to be the main factor. In public statements, the chairman of the boards always insists on the excellent “performance” of the boards.

As long as the boards do not become truly independent from the EPO, and cannot present their budget directly to the AC, they cannot be considered truly independent.

It looks ironical that the RPBA give clear time limits to the parties, but do not give any time limit to the boards to issue their decisions. The fact that the chair of the boards is to be informed if a board takes more than three months to issue the decision is not really helpful. What matters is the time needed by a board to come to a decision.

On the other hand, it is preferable that the boards deliver good decisions rather than simply quick decisions. We see in first instance what quick decisions lead to.

The boards have recruited heavily in recent years and it can be expected that the situation will improve in the future, but the non-recruitment for many years is proving to be a more serious handicap for the boards than could have been expected.
It is not by putting extra time pressure on parties, and especially on respondents, that the situation at the boards will improve. The situation at the boards was not caused by the parties to appeal.


When looking at the various “consultations” carried out by the EPO in recent years, one immediate conclusion would be to consider that such “consultations’” have no more reason d’être than a mere alibi function.

I have never seen any substantial amendment of what was proposed originally after a so-called “consultation” by the EPO.

It looks more that the EPO wants to clear its conscience vis-à-vis its users, so that it can tell the Administrative Council that users have been “consulted”.

Strangely enough, the published consultations of the EPO systematically appear to support the point of view of the EPO.

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