As previously reported here and here, oral proceedings were recently held before the Enlarged Board of Appeal (EBA) of the European Patent Office (EPO) in case G 1/21, concerning the question of whether or not EPO Boards of Appeal can dictate that oral proceedings are to be held by video-conference ("ViCo"), rather than in-person, against the wishes of one or more parties to the proceedings.
The EBA has now issued its decision: during a "general emergency" in which attendance at oral proceedings at the EPO premises in-person is impaired, oral proceedings before the EPO boards of appeal by ViCo is compatible with the European Patent Convention, even if not all of the parties to the proceedings consent.
So, there we have it: for the time being, the EPO Boards of Appeal will continue with the conduct of oral proceedings by ViCo in accordance with its present practice. Unfortunately, the decision does not appear to address a) the position in the absence of a general emergency, b) the position in examination or opposition proceedings, so long-term we don't appear to be any the wiser.
The full reasoned decision will follow from the EBA shortly.
"Today, the Enlarged Board of Appeal, the highest level of independent judicial authority at the European Patent Office (EPO), has decided on referral G 1/21 concerning the compliance of oral proceedings by videoconference (VICO) with the European Patent Convention (EPC). The decision was taken after a public hearing held before the Enlarged Board on 2 July 2021".