EPO Guidelines go gender neutral

EPO Guidelines go gender neutral

Last week the EPO published an advance copy of one of its core texts, the Guidelines for Examination (2021) and we are delighted to see the introduction of gender-neutral language. This is the latest development in re-drafting efforts by the EPO. An Official Journal notice dated 25 January 2021 notes that gender-neutral language is also being implemented in the PCT-EPO Guidelines. The 2020 Rules of Procedure of the Board of Appeal and the EPO’s European Guide (a document outlining the process of obtaining a European patent for inventors and companies) have both previously been redrafted for gender neutrality.
Gender-neutral language is important to avoid creating assumptions in the reader’s mind of the gender of an inventor, applicant, representative or EPO employee. Gendered language, as well as perpetuating the gender binary, can reinforce age-old stereotypes which can have wide-ranging knock-on effects from maintaining gender inequality in inventorship to impacting EPO recruitment efforts. In short, gendered language can negatively impact equality, diversity and inclusivity.
The advanced copy of the 2021 edition of the Guidelines uses two main revision techniques to avoid gendered language (specifically, to remove use of he, him and his). The examples below, taken from Chapter A, illustrate some of the changes.

  1. Applicants and proprietors are referred to in the plural to make use of the theythem and their
The applicant Applicants also has have the option of indicating that he wishes they wish the claims of the previously filed application to take the place of claims in the application as filed.
A-II, 4.1.4
In the event that the information concerning the applicant applicants is missing or does not enable the EPO to contact him them (a deficiency according to Rule 40(1)(b)), no such communication is sent. However, if the applicant corrects applicants correct this deficiency of his their own motion within two months of the date of receipt of the original documents, then the date of filing is the date on which all requirements of Rule 40 are met.
  1. Sentences have been rephrased to remove pronouns altogether

A-II, 4.1.5
In the latter case, the applicant is informed of the date of filing accorded to his the application. Case (ii) is subject to one exception. Where the application is filed by reference to a previously filed application and the applicant fails to file the certified copy of the previously filed application within two months of the filing date as required by Rule 40(3), he is invited an invitation is sent to the applicant to file it within a period of two months from a communication according to Rule 55.
A-III, 5.4
The inventor is notified at his the address as indicated by the applicant. If the notification is returned to the EPO because the inventor is not known at the address indicated or has moved to an unknown new address, the applicant is asked whether he knows the inventor's new address is known.
We welcome the efforts taken by the EPO to introduce gender neutrality to its official texts. The EPO’s use of gender-neutral language mirrors action taken by representatives and users of the EPO, for example Kilburn & Strode has removed ‘Dear Sirs’ from official letters to the EPO.
Of course, creating a gender-neutral English-language version of the Guidelines is only part of the story. The advance copy of the 2021 Guidelines is only released in English, and therefore we are yet to see how gender-neutral language will be incorporated in the Guidelines in the two other EPO languages (French and German), both of which are gender-based languages.
Feel free to get in touch with Emily if you have any further questions about the EPO’s gender-neutral guidelines.

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