As part of the maintenance of pending European patent applications, annual renewal fees are charged by the EPO. These fees are due at the end of the month containing the anniversary of the filing date. The first fee to be paid is the third year renewal fee, due at the end of the month containing the second anniversary of the filing date.
Since 2009, the EPO has not permitted renewal fees to be paid more than three months before the due date. Payments made earlier are not valid and will be refunded by the EPO, except when paid shortly before the permissible prepayment period. For Euro-PCT applications, it has therefore been common for the third year renewal fee payment window to open after the 31 month time limit for entering the European regional phase. This restriction is applied by the EPO to prevent Applicants from making multiple payments in advance thereby avoiding future increases in fees.
However, with effect from 1 April 2018, the payment window for the third year renewal fee is being extended. It will now be possible for Applicants to pay the third year renewal fee up to six months before it falls due. This change means that, in most cases, Applicants will now have the opportunity to pay the third year renewal fee at the same time they bring a PCT application into the regional phase in the EPO.
This change applies to any application for which the third year renewal fee is paid on or after 1 April 2018.
It is to be noted that the change only applies to the third year renewal fee, subsequent renewal fees may still only be validly paid within a three month window before they fall due.
Applicants should also note that they can still pay the third year renewal fee closer to the due date if they wish.