European Patent Office oppositions are a very powerful way of litigating newly granted patents. In reality these are pan-European revocation proceedings, with profound strategic significance for life sciences companies – this is the only way through which all national parts of a European patent can be revoked simultaneously in one set of proceedings. Unsurprisingly, EPO oppositions are now an almost inevitable feature of the European life sciences litigation landscape.

In 2015, the EPO saw an increase of 17.6% in the total number of patents opposed, up to a total of 3,713 patents, with life sciences patents forming a substantial portion of these. Whilst not at U.S. litigation levels, this nonetheless starkly demonstrates oppositions’ strategic value in commercial battles between competitors in Europe. But the EPO opposition process has been a victim of its own success, attracting adverse judicial criticism for its lengthy and open-ended process. “Normal” cases have been taking an average of between four to eight years through to final determination (including appeals).

The EPO has now announced that from July 1, 2016, post-grant oppositions will be reformed so that they become significantly faster and more efficient. The effect of these changes is that in straightforward cases, the decision in a first instance opposition will be issued within 15 months from the opposition deadline. To learn more about these changes, read our client alert, “The European Patent Office introduces a ‘go-faster’ opposition process.”