The EPO apparently has a new internal procedure that debuted at some point in the last year which applies when a European patent application enters the six-month grace period for payment of an overdue renewal fee. Once this happens the case file is apparently put on hold so that the Examiner is unable to work on it until the renewal fee has been paid.
IPcopy has heard that a colleague recently tried to briefly discuss a case with an Examiner to see if the claims looked in good shape from the Examiner’s point of view and also when the next exam report might issue. However the case in question was in the grace period for the renewal payment and so the Examiner was prevented from even opening the file to answer what were relatively basic questions.
Under previous arrangements EPO Examiners were apparently able to work on cases until 5 months after the missed renewal date (i.e. within one month of the end of the 6 month grace period) and even in the last month an Examiner was able to take a brief look at a file.
Apparently, this is not now possible and an applicant hoping to receive either an exam report or some other indication on the allowability of the claims before deciding whether to pay the renewal fee now has no option other than to pay the renewal fee.
IPcopy can appreciate that the EPO may have seen large numbers of cases that were entering the grace period and then were subsequently dropped once the applicant received an EPO work product. However, on the other hand, applicants that have paid all their search/examination fees should surely have some reasonable expectation that they will receive the Examiner’s work product without being held to paying off a renewal fee beforehand.
Has anyone else experienced this issue?