Home » General Interest » Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes!…to the UK patent attorney qualifying exams.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes!…to the UK patent attorney qualifying exams.

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IPRegMost readers in the patent profession will be aware that changes are afoot in the way trainee patent attorneys will qualify as Chartered Patent Attorneys (CPAs). The changes are spearheaded by IPReg, the regulatory body for patent and trade mark attorneys, and IPReg has released a consultation document, inviting comments.

The proposed changes affect both the foundation and advanced level exams and are, in short, the abolishment of all the foundation exams, to be replaced with approved taught university courses (currently there is an option between these two routes: as a rough estimate, 20-25% of candidates typically take the foundations route), and the abolishment of Advanced papers P3 (drafting) and P4 (amendment) to be replaced with the equivalent European Qualifying Examination (EQE) papers, or the EQE as a whole (currently, candidates may either sit P3 and P4, or may gain exemption by passing the equivalent EQE papers: many candidates will sit P3 and P4 at least once, even if they ultimately use the exemption for qualification).

As someone who is currently training in this profession, and who, last October, sat three of the exams that would be jettisoned by these changes (two foundation papers and P3), I have some fairly strong feelings on IPReg’s suggestions. They are not positive. I confess that I morph into something of a grumpy old man when the subject comes up in conversation, so this post might get a bit ranty. It’s probably best enjoyed with some kind of rousing, team-building, battle-inducing tune in the background*.

Many of the reasons why I dislike the proposed changes (lack of flexibility, forcing firms, or trainees, into paying expensive university fees with implications for accessibility to the profession, lack of control over course content, lack of any way back should the changes not work out…) have been well argued in the comments of this IPKat post. A previous incarnation of this post went into these in long, ranty detail, with a few more detailed objections of my own, but I won’t rehearse them again: if you’re interested, take a look. I agree with near enough all of them.

Instead I will just explain what I think is a fundamental problem with the proposed changes, which is that they do not, in my view, stem from the right motivation. The changes should be motivated by a desire to maintain the highest possible standards in the UK profession, to provide the most thorough and effective training possible, and to improve accessibility into the profession in order to attract the best and the brightest. Instead, they are motivated by the ambitious aspiration of…errr… ‘simplifying’ a process which is hardly very complicated to begin with.

To my mind, the consultation document could pretty much be replaced by the following scrawled in crayon on the back of an envelope:

“It’s all quite a lot of effort, isn’t it? Shall we just not bother?”

I am all for some changes to the UK qualification system. But IPReg is doing this backwards. As someone from Nottingham Trent University** shrewdly commented at the CIPA/IPO open meeting last week in relation to a potential course for the mythical European Patent Litigation Certificate, (paraphrased from my notes) we should be looking first at the outcome we want from the training, and designing a training structure that achieves that outcome. We should NOT be designing a training structure based on whatever we feel like doing and hoping it will do the job. How pertinent.

Speaking, in fact, of that very open meeting, you will see from ipcopymark’s posts this week that a key argument in the UK profession’s case for being able to represent clients at the UPC (without the need for any additional qualifications) is based on the high quality of the Chartered Patent Attorney ‘brand’. The argument goes that, in qualifying as a Chartered Patent Attorney, CPAs have already shown themselves to have skills and knowledge over and above that of a European Patent Attorney, those skills and knowledge being sufficient to confer the right of representation in the UPC.

It seems to me that this argument is only weakened by the complete replacement of half of the UK CPA exams with the EQEs. How can we argue on the one hand that being a CPA means more than being an EPA, but argue on the other hand that the skills tested by these exams are exactly the same?

The CPA brand is not something to be taken lightly. The introduction of the UPC can only serve to intensify our competition for European patent work from within Europe. Companies and attorneys in the US, China, Japan, and all over the world will be looking to Europe and choosing whether to send their European work to the UK, or Germany, or France, or the Netherlands, or Poland. We need to be sending a message to the world that in choosing a UK attorney you will be getting the best, and someone who can offer more than other European attorneys. And this begins, surely, with training and qualification.

This is the background against which we should be considering any changes to the exam system, and I hope I am wrong in suggesting that it is a background in which IPReg appears uninterested.

Emily Weal 30 January 2014

*Preferably selected from the group consisting of: Survivor – Eye of the Tiger; Judas Priest – United; That battle music from the Lord of the Rings soundtrack; and (for the classically-minded) William Walton’s Crown Imperial.

**Apologies for not having your name scribbled in my notes!

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