Safeguards when making EPO payments

The recent decision of the technical board of appeal, T 480/21, has shed light on the circumstances under which the European Patent Office (EPO) can extend payment periods under the Arrangements for Deposit Accounts (ADA).
In this case, a professional representative encountered technical issues while attempting to file an opposition on the final day of the nine-month opposition period. Despite repeated error messages from the EPO's online filing system, the representative ultimately submitted the opposition and supporting evidence via fax.
However, the EPO does not accept payment orders sent via fax, and the representative made the payment the following day, resulting in the EPO deeming the opposition as not filed. 

The ADA, as published in 2019, includes a provision in point 5.5 that extends a payment period to the next available day if the accepted means of filing debit orders are not available at the EPO on the day the payment period expires. 

The Board considered the experience and credibility of the individuals involved, the correctness of the computer set-up, and the genuineness of the error message. It also found that the EPO's responsibility extended to software installed by users outside the EPO's premises and servers.
The Board concluded that the error was attributable to the EPO, and therefore, point 5.5 of the ADA applied.
Consequently, the payment period was extended to the next day, and the payment was deemed valid. 

Decision T 480/21 provides a valuable checklist for addressing potential malfunctions in the EPO's online filing software when making payments. It emphasizes the importance of considering the experience and credibility of individuals involved, assessing the technical setup, and recognizing the responsibility of the EPO for software installed by users outside its premises. 

In summary, the decision in T 480/21 underscores the significance of the ADA provision in extending payment periods when technical issues arise during the filing process. It serves as a guide for navigating similar situations and highlights the need for thorough consideration of technical and procedural aspects when addressing payment-related challenges with the EPO's online filing system.

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