Those of you who have been trainees for a year or more will recall that this time last year, IPReg asked the patent profession for comments on its proposals to ‘simplify and modernise the Patent Attorney examination system’. Briefly, IPReg proposed two things:
1) to remove the Foundation level examinations and require all trainees to attend an equivalent course run by a University, and
2) to withdraw the UK drafting (P3, now known as FD2) and amendment (P4, now known as FD3) papers, and instead require trainees to rely on the exemptions obtainable by passing the EQEs.
Over 200 trainees responded to the Informals’ survey on IPReg’s proposed changes, and we submitted a response to the consultation on behalf of the student body of CIPA. You can see our response here.
Since the consultation period ended, IPReg has been remarkably silent, perhaps because, as IPReg acknowledged (see here), the majority of the responses IPReg received were not in support of their proposals. IPReg has neither published the responses (or a selection thereof) on its website, nor provided any satisfactory indication of whether it intends to go ahead with the proposed changes or not. However, there have been other developments in education since the consultation ended, which may impact IPReg’s proposals.
Firstly, the Patent Examination Board (PEB) is now up and running, and has been busy professionalising the UK patent examinations. For example, the PEB has recently updated the syllabi for the UK examinations to make it clearer what skills and knowledge are required to be able to pass each examination. Patent firms have developed their own training programs to prepare their trainees for the PEB Foundation level exams, in view of the fact that University courses either do not exist in their area or are too expensive. If IPReg decides to go ahead with its first proposal, then the hard work and time that PEB has put into improving the UK examinations, and those developing in-house training programs, has unfortunately been wasted.
Secondly, the EQEs are changing from 2017 to provide only a single Paper A (drafting) and a single Paper B (amendment), in a technical field that is accessible to all (see our post about this here). IPReg alleged that since more UK trainees sit EQE Papers A and B and then claim exemptions from the UK drafting and amendment papers, the UK papers were redundant. The reason more UK trainees sit the EQE Papers A and B is because they are provided in two different technical fields – “Electricity/Mechanics” and “Chemistry”.
How does this change affect IPReg’s second proposal? Well, now it seems trainees will have to learn how to draft claims for inventions in “technical fields that are accessible to everyone” (whatever that means), regardless of their technical background, whether or not they take the UK drafting exam. Perhaps the inventions will be similar to those presented in EQE Paper C and in the claims part of the EQE pre-examination, i.e. a combination of mechanical devices and chemistry.
This has an important knock-on effect on trainers, who will have to teach their trainees how to draft claims for an invention in such a technical field, regardless of their own background and skills. Can trainers with a background in Physics comfortably teach their trainees how to draft chemical claims and disclaimers? Can patent attorneys with backgrounds in Biology teach their trainees how to draft mechanical device claims? If not, what will happen to the current generation of trainee patent attorneys?
There is a great deal of uncertainty in the patent profession regarding education and training. Both trainees and trainers alike do not know which exams will exist in the coming years, and as a consequence, trainers do not know how best to train their trainees. We hope that IPReg will provide the patent profession with an update soon.
Informals’ Honorary Secretary