There are two mechanisms for extending time limits at the EPO. The first is to request an extension prior to expiry of the deadline. These extensions do not require payment of official fees, but are discretionary and only apply to certain time limits. The second is under the EPO’s further processing procedure, which requires payment of an official fee.
Time limits that are set in official communications from the EPC are often extendible by a number of months, without payment of any official fees, provided the extension is requested in writing before the end of the original deadline. However, these extensions are at the discretion of the Formalities Examiner handling the case.
The only extension that can be relied upon is the extension to the period for responding to examination reports. European practice is that these periods can nearly always be extended to a maximum of six months from the date of the communication (i.e. one two-month extension to an original four-month period for response).
Further extensions are very rarely granted.
Deadlines for paying official fees can only be extended under the “further processing” procedure. In addition, deadlines which have been extended as far as possible using the discretionary extensions described above may be further extended using further processing.
The procedure is in fact an automatic reviving of an application or some other right which has been deemed abandoned or withdrawn. Once the deadline has passed (whether extended or not), an official communication is issued noting the loss of rights, e.g. the deemed abandonment of the application. If, within two months of that communication, the further processing fee is paid and the “missing act” completed, the loss of rights is deemed not to have occurred and the application is kept pending. No third-party rights accrue in the time the application is deemed abandoned.
The extension provided by further processing is therefore equal to two months, plus the time taken for the EPO to issue the communication noting the loss of rights. This is usually about three months in total.
The further processing fee changes depending on the nature of the deadline that is to be extended. If the missed deadline did not involve the payment of an official fee, the further processing fee is applied at a base rate (equal to €225 at the time of writing). If the missed deadline involves the payment of an official fee, however, the further processing fee is 50% of that missing fee.