here. Loads of publicity has been given to the changes to Rule 36, which prevents you filing voluntary divisionals more than 2 years after the first communication on examination.
My guess is that Patent Agents will be filling the EPO coffers with fees for Further Processing because of the new Rule 70(a) and Rule 161. These require a response to the search opinion. Its not too bad if you are processing a normal European patent application filed directly with the EPO. You must respond to the search report when requesting examination. If you do not then you can expect a communication that the application is deemed withdrawn and further processing fees will apply as well as the filing of the response.
Life is a bit more complicated when it is a PCT-EP application. If you are going to get a supplementary search then you are OK to wait the usual long period where nothing is required of the applicant however meritless the apllication. However if the EPO did the search, then your Rule 161(1) notice stops being a letter you can ignore, but one that needs a response within a short period. Entering the national phase of a PCT application is already wildly expensive and a heavy financial risk to solo attorneys. Now it means a big risk on your own time working on the response as well. My low esimate proved too much for a lay client the other day and it transpires he is doing the work unaided.
A little client management is now going to be needed to explain this early obligation. The EPO hope that agents will be helping them reduce the backlog of doomed applications before they arrive. Its not going to be that easy especially if it raises the number of unrepresented applicants. I advised a different corporate client last week that it was not worth entering the national phase as they could not tell me why they thought the search opinion had missed the point of the invention. All that happens is that another attorney will do it and I earned no fees for my sound advice. Being solo I have no-one to whom to justify that loss of business but in larger firms such good advice may be less welcome.
If you are in Glasgow you can attend the CIPA Seminar on 16 April to make sure you are up to speed with all of the new rules.