PACE is one of the mechanisms Applicants can use to speed up prosecution of an application at the EPO. A recent notice from the EPO (here) updates the PACE programme. It applies to all pending applications after 01 January 2016.
The notice suggests that, as a general rule, where an application is under PACE:
- the search report should be issued within 6 months;
- the first examination report should be issued within 3 months; and
- each subsequent examination report should be issued within 3 months of the Applicant’s previous response.
These times are just guidelines though - the notice makes it clear that the actual time taken will depend on the workload of the department responsible.
Importantly, the notice outlines the circumstances that would lead to an application being removed from the PACE program. These are:
- where the Applicant withdraws their request for PACE;
- where the Applicant requests an extension of time;
- where an application is refused or withdrawn, or deemed withdrawn; or
- where the Applicant fails to pay a renewal fee on time.
This clarification means that applicants will be able to avoid any unwanted removal from the PACE program.
The notice also clarifies that it will only be possible to request PACE once during each stage (search and examination) of prosecution. This means that if PACE is lost for an application, it is not possible to restore the application to PACE during that stage of prosecution. This is a change to the existing procedure, and Applicants who have requested PACE should bear this in mind when faced with an EPO deadline, to make sure that PACE isn’t irrevocably lost for their application.
Of course, there are other methods to try to speed things up at the EPO, such as waiving the right to certain communications or through use of the PPH program. Our information sheet summarising these methods can be found here.