The Boards of Appeal constitute the judicial body of the EPO and are competent to carry out a substantive review of the decisions of the first instance departments within the scope of an appealing party's request.
The technical boards, in a composition of two technically qualified members and one legally qualified member, generally hear appeals from decisions concerning the refusal of a patent application or the grant, limitation or revocation of a European patent, i.e. decisions of the Examining Divisions in the context of ex-parte proceedings (one party involved) or decisions of the Opposition Divisions in the context of inter-partes proceedings (two or more parties involved in contentious proceedings).
The Legal Board, with three legally qualified members, hears appeals from the decisions of the receiving section.
The decisions of the Boards of Appeal are final with a binding effect on the refusal or maintenance of a European patent, unless they become subject to a review by the Enlarged Board of Appeal on the ground that a fundamental procedural defect has occurred or that a criminal act may have had an impact on the decision (petition for review according to Art. 112a EPC).
There are currently 28 technical boards of appeal, plus the Legal Board of Appeal, the Enlarged Board of Appeal and the Disciplinary Board of Appeal. Work is allocated according to the International Patent Classification. Details of the boards’ composition and responsibilities can be found in the "Business distribution scheme".
The Boards of Appeal have the status of an internationally recognised judicial authority. Although they are integrated in the organisational structure of the EPO, they are independent from the Office in their decisions and the EPC safeguards the independence and impartiality of their members who shall not be bound by any instructions other than the provisions of the Convention (Art.23(3) EPC). The members of the Boards of Appeal are appointed by the Administrative Council of the European Patent Organisation for a term of five years.