Changes to PACE programme from 1 January 2016
The EPO has revised the operation of its popular free programme to accelerate patent applications at the request of the applicant. The changes streamline the existing scheme, improve responsiveness for critically important applications and better align PACE with the EPO's workload prioritisation initiative ‘Early Certainty from Search' (ECfS).
New form for PACE requests
PACE continues to be available free of charge for all pending applications at the EPO. From today, requests to accelerate search or examination can only be made online using EPO Form 1005, for one application at a time. Applicants must specify which stage of the procedure - search or examination - they want to accelerate. A PACE request may be filed only once for search and once for examination. If a request is withdrawn, deemed to be withdrawn or the application is removed from PACE for procedural reasons (see below) a second request for the same stage on the same application cannot later be made. In line with previous practice, PACE requests remain confidential and are excluded from the part of the application file which is open to public inspection online.
Balancing workload and maintaining fairness
Managing PACE requests requires the EPO to balance workload demand and safeguard ECfS priorities. EPO examiners are focusing on new searches and completing those applications where examination has already started. PACE requests for search or examination will be considered only if the application is in a fit state (e.g. for examination any defects identified earlier must have been addressed). To be fair to all applicants, the EPO will remove from the PACE programme any applications for which the applicant then requests an extension of time limits for reply. The EPO will suspend application prosecution under PACE in the event of non-payment of overdue renewal fees, until such time as said fees are paid. Applicants requesting PACE for many or all of their pending applications will be asked to make a selection and reasonably limit the number of their requests to only those which are the most urgent.
The EPO has already committed to delivering search reports within six months of filing, as part of ECfS. As such, PACE is not normally needed for search requests. During examination, the EPO will issue its next office action within three months of receipt of:
(i) the application by the examining division;
(ii) the applicant's response to the communication under Rule 70a or 161(1) EPC; or
(iii) the PACE request, whichever is latest.
The subsequent office actions will also be issued within three months of receipt of the applicant's response, provided that the application is still being processed under PACE.