Coronavirus Has Adversely Impacted Intellectual Property (IP) Adjudication in Europe – Creating an Impediment to Critical Economic Investment

As the World Economic Forum (WEF) detailed this month – citing statistics from the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, worldwide confirmed cases of COVID-19 have now reached over 28.1 million.

The tragic result of the virus is evident in the number of deaths which have been recorded, and the economic disruption it has caused. As of September 2020, total deaths attributed to COVID-19 are more than 900,000. And as Reuters has detailed, the European Central Bank (ECB) now projects the Eurozone economies will shrink by 8% this year.

European Patent Office (EPO) alters hearing procedures in wake of COVID

Coronavirus has impacted the way in which Intellectual Property (IP) matters are handled by courts and legal practices in Europe. As the European Patent Office (EPO) recently announced, all Oral Hearings held at the agency have been postponed, unless those hearings can be held by videoconference.

The EPO initially announced at the beginning of the Coronavirus that oral proceedings due to be held until 14 September 2020, where those proceedings will not take place by videoconference, had been postponed. The suspension of oral proceedings has now been further extended until 31 December 2020.

Amended EPO hearings procedures are causing unnecessary delays to IP adjudications

In most cases, parties to disputes heard before the EPO are not agreeing to video-calls because of the perceived risk that one party may be misunderstood or be less convincing. These considerations are particularly important as the proceedings often involve significant economic interests for the parties.

New legal uncertainties have dampened critical IP-dependent economic investments

EPO postponements have created a rising legal uncertainty for clients – particularly as these hearings were already too lengthy. Final decisions to high monetary value EPO judgements are now set to take one to two years longer to adjudicate than before the COVID adjudication changes.

Should these postponements continue, creating further legal uncertainty — investments in new projects dependent on the use of critical IP are likely to be postponed or cancelled.