EPO Boards of Appeal to relocate back to Munich

The President of the EPO has recently announced a plan to move the Boards of Appeal back to the centre of Munich (see here). In 2017 the Boards of Appeal moved from their central Munich offices to the suburb of Haar, some 12 km south-east from the city centre. At the time the move was part of a project to demonstrate the independence of the Boards of Appeal from other parts of the European Patent Office. The move was also intended to provide the Boards with modern and spacious facilities within a greater plan to improve their operation.

The move to Haar was not met with universal approval. Indeed, many attorneys and many within the EPO were opposed to the move. And once the Boards were established in their new building, the location of oral hearings in the Haar was even subject to legal challenges on the basis that Haar was not located in Munich, as was said to be required by the European Patent Convention. Ultimately such challenges were not successful, but it was one of many indications that many were not impressed with the move.

Amongst some of the objections were the cost of the new facilities, but for most it was the awkwardness of further travel to Haar that presented a problem. Haar itself offered extremely limited hotels and restaurants, forcing most attendees to stay in central Munich and travel early in the morning to reach Haar. There was no attorney or client who appreciated having to travel through Munich on to Haar during the rush hour, laden with their files. Haar was also significantly further away from the main train station and the airport compared to the EPO buildings used previously by the Boards. With attorneys having to travel from all across Europe to get to Munich, the additional further travel needed to get to Haar was often painful.

The President of the EPO, as well as the President of the Boards of Appeal, now want to bring the Boards back into Munich. In part this seems connected with the EPO’s new ways of working: many of its employees are now working remotely, and the EPO now has large amounts of real estate in central Munich that might in future lie empty. It needs to decide how to deal with that. Bringing the Boards of Appeal back into central Munich is apparently one strategy. Having only recently moved out to Haar, and having committed to a relatively long lease on the properties there, the return of the Boards of Appeal to central Munich is a surprising about-turn by the EPO.