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Thursday, 26 February 2009

EQE data overload

Following the IPKat's little rant last week, he has been passed some more details and further anonymous comments on the contentious subject of the EQEs.  The document he was pointed to first (now posted on the IPKat's Google Groups website) contains some very interesting details about the reasons behind the recent changes made to the EQE Regulations (available here), and some clear pointers to the form the Implementing Regulations will take, once they have been finalised. The main points appear to be that the language requirement relating to paper C will be abolished as from 2010, and that a minimum of four years full time education at university level will be required in order to take the EQEs after 3 years in the profession.  A draft proposal to restrict the books that candidates are allowed to take into the exams has apparently been dropped. The IPKat is not really too bothered by either of the current proposals, and in particular welcomes the abolition of the paper C language lottery, although he has commented previously on the apparently arbitrary nature of the 3/4 year requirement, which doesn't really make any sense (except if you don't like UK candidates qualifying too early).  

The IPKat has also been pointed to a very illuminating document, available in full from the EPO here. This provides a summary of the pass rates and numbers of people in each member state who are entitled to call themselves "European Patent Attorney".  Parts of this summary were apparently used in illustrating the proposals for the new Regulations on the EQEs.  What the IPKat was interested, and a little surprised, to see was the large number of qualified EPAs still on the register that have never passed the exams.  This is shown in the following figure (click for a larger view):

According to these figures, in 2007 there were 8866 EPAs on the register, 5339 of which had passed the EQEs. Quite a large proportion, totalling 3527 EPAs (40%), had not qualified by passing the exams. Instead, these attorneys had qualified automatically by being already entitled to act as attorneys before their state joined the EPC (the so-called "grandfather clause" of Article 163 EPC1973). A large majority will, of course, be resident in the three main countries of the EPC: Germany, France and the UK. This means that many of these attorneys will have been calling themselves EPAs for the past 30 years. 

If the IPKat had his way (which, of course, will not happen), all of these attorneys would also be sitting the papers to be taken by prospective EPAs next week.  Some of them, he suspects, would inevitably fail.  Would this be a bad thing? If the EPO is serious about "raising the bar", one of the justifications for the proposed changes to the EQE regulations, should they not also ensure that all those having the right to call themselves a European Patent Attorney are actually qualified to the same standard?

A related point that keeps coming up, which the IPKat cannot confirm for certain, is how many of those on the EQE Examination Committe have actually sat and passed the exams they are setting and marking.  It would be nice to know that they have all passed the same test that they expect others to pass. After all, it would be a bit disturbing if university examination papers (say) were set by people with only honorary degrees, would it not?

Probably the most interesting figure from the document is the one that was used in the draft regulations.  The following figure shows the numbers of candidates overall having taken one or more exams over the period from 1998 to 2007:

Are the exams getting harder, are there more candidates being registered who are less able to pass the exams, or is there some other reason for the increase in numbers in candidates not correlating well with an increase in numbers qualifying? The IPKat doesn't know.

Some more interesting data that the IPKat gleaned from the EPO document illustrates the difference between those in the big three member states (DE, FR, GB) trying to become qualified as EPAs compared to those from states not having one of the official languages as their national language.  From the results in 2007 (which, remember, was a particularly bad one for paper C), 29.5% of UK candidates who took one or more papers became EPAs, while only 19.7% of French candidates and 18.1% of German candidates passed. Dutch candidates did slightly better with 20.3%.  For other non-EPO language countries, however, the picture looks a bit more grim.  Only 9.4% of Italian candidates made it, and a mere 5.6% of Spanish candidates passed.  As the following figure shows, very few Spanish candidates in total have passed the exams since Spain joined the EPC in 1986, and only 21 were on the register in 2007, the rest being honorary entrants:

The situation for many other countries is even worse, with several countries having no properly qualified attorneys at all.  The IPKat wonders whether any realistic (rather than merely token) efforts are being made to improve this.  He can understand why Spain would like to have Spanish accepted as another official language of the EPC (the same argument would of course also apply to Italy, Greece, Hungary etc.), although he thinks it makes about as much sense as having Welsh an official language of UK patents.


David Brophy said...

Responding to "A related point that keeps coming up, which the IPKat cannot confirm for certain, is how many of those on the EQE Examination Committe have actually sat and passed the exams they are setting and marking. It would be nice to know that they have all passed the same test that they expect others to pass. After all, it would be a bit disturbing if university examination papers (say) were set by people with only honorary degrees, would it not?

I hate to deflate a good tirade, but the truth is that they have all passed, as far as I know.

I sat on one of the Committees (Paper D) and learnt that my offer to become an examiner was not rubber-stamped, but in fact my own EQE marks were dug up from 1997 and looked at to ensure that I had actually passed Paper D, and not simply compensated.

Anonymous said...

I was an EQE examiner that came from the profession organised by EPI and a grandfather. For some peculiar reason the EPI had decided that this kind of work would be pro bono and hence unremunerated, although correcting 70 papers (as it was then) and participating in constructing new papers required quite some time. The raw travel and hotel expenses were paid. But for me, although the activity was exciting, this time could not be justified. I guess that for that very reason, most of the professional members were essentially retired. However, EPO examiners were also part of the committee, and they were considerably younger. Also, EPO volunteers would "sit" the various papers to test them and to provide a reference. Still, scandals apparently have not been unknown in recent years.

Going through the Official Journal, in which you can read about entries and exits to the EPI list, it was very clear that everytime a country with an underdeveloped patent system joined, at first there would be a huge amount of grandfathers, and in later issues you could see them disappear again. In some states, the only EPI members via the grandfather rule were actually legal attorneys (who have the right to represent anyway without any authorisation or technical qualification at all). One may wonder, whether the label "European Patent Attorney" was merely for advertising purposes.

All, in all, David, your analysis is very illuminating. Thank you from an old cynic.

Anonymous said...

When the IP-Kat compared the passing rates for countries with an EPO-language and without, it included the Dutch candidates in the list of GB, DE and FR. Unless the IP-Kat counts the Netherlands as a state with an EPO language, the high pass rate of the Dutch participants to my opinion only shows that the educational level of the candidates is high.
There are probably several reasons for this phenomenon, the first being that the teaching for the EQE by the CEIPI (including Delta Patents) tutors is of a high standard, the second reason being that the Dutch candidates already have a good starting point through the eductaion that they receive when studying to qualify for the national exams.
To my opinion the situation in the Netherlands is comparable to that in the UK where candidates historically have a high EQE pass rate.
Thus, the conclusion should be that it does not matter what your mother tongue is if you are able to receive the proper training.

Anonymous said...

Re. examiners having passed the exams, I can confirm that I know at least one former examiner on the committees who has never sat, let alone passed, the exams. Those who can, do; those who can't...

Anonymous said...

As an EPO examiner who passed the exams (in NL), I can only agree that the support I received from Delta Patents, CEIPI et al probably made the difference in passing or not. Thus training - and its related high cost! - is probably a large factor in succeeding.

Anonymous said...

With regard to the particular figures of representatives in Spain, I would imagine that there must be a considerable amount of concern being expressed within the Spanish Patent Bar as to future representatives. As your figures show, only 21 people have managed to qualify since Spain became a contracting member in 1986. If the assumption that the average age of the patent attorney in 1986 was, say, 40, most of the "grandfathers" must be of retirement age or beyond by now. While many attornies will be happy to extend their working lives, the Spanish statistics show a ticking time bomb for the patent profession.

Anonymous said...

Although the IPKat does have a point, the headline figure of 40% of EPAs having practiced around 30 years is somewhat misleading. Looking at the latest EPO figures, almost 1100 EPA come from countries which have joined the EPC since 2000. Roughly a further 500 are from countries that joined the EPC in the 90’s. If these more recent joiners are excluded, grandfathers who have been in the profession for around 30 years or more account for only about 25% of the profession. Still a significant number bearing in mind that the older grandfathers a likely to be retiring over the next few years but somewhat less alarming than the 40% figure quoted in the article.

Anonymous said...

I would support Anonymous 08:45 in his view of education, rather than mere language skills. In the extremely short lives of blog comments I posted the following on 20 February:
'I do not think that the language problem is really the basis for low passing rates. I was an EQE "examiner" for two years, and my experience from correcting papers was that there were much more fundamental problems at play. For instance, the correct hierarchisation of technical phenomena - which is the broader concept. Many candidates were not able to correcly classify technical phenomena, something that is the fault of the technical universities, rather than the fault of the training for the EQE. Simple things like if you remove one feature, you broaden the claim and vice versa, were not well understood. The reason why you might end up with lack of unity if the main claim failed was not well understood. To fight these problems under stressful conditions and with some language barriers - well I can understand why the pass rate is so low.'

There are three skills needed: technical understanding, law understanding, and languages. The sad thing is that we use language to describe phenomena.

Anonymous said...

The grandfather clause has a historical reason: when the EPO was created there were neither qualified EPA's nor an EQE. It took some time to prepare a functioning qualifying examination. However, it seems that it would have been a more sensible choice to limit the time during which these "grandfathers" could act to some years to give them time to pass the EQE once it was in place.

Chris H said...

Regarding the success rate over the years, I think it is roughly constant at around 25% if you disregard 2007 (with the paper C fiasco) - but we'll see when the results for 2008 are included!

(From data here I make it (242+3+428)/(583+55+1207) = 36%, but that seems to be less candidates than normal so maybe I'm missing something?

Anonymous said...

As a Spaniard who has passed the exam (and who will remain safely anonymous), I can say that the Spanish situation is an absolute disgrace. Not only have very few Spaniards passed, but on top of that a large proportion of those who have passed have done so while working abroad. Since 1986 the Spanish profession has had ample time to improve education of new entrants. To say that the "grandfathers" have greatly neglected this task is a very polite understatement.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if those who are only represtative by virtue of the "grandfather" clause should be highlighted as such on the list of representatives or placed on a separate list. Afterall, if a member of the public is seeking an EP attorney should they not be able to distinguish between some legal practitioner who dabbled in patents 30 years ago and an attorney who sat the rigourous exams? In my proposal, the granfathers could jump lists by passing, for example Paper D showing they know the current law. Admittedly many of the "grandfathers" in the firm I work for are excellent attorneys who can teach us young upstarts who sat the exams a thing or two adn so it might be a little unfair to class them as second tier represeantatives. Having said that, they could probaly breeze the EQEs so would have not musch trouble jumping lists.

Anonymous said...

D1/80 clearly says that "Ein Unterschied zwischen eingetragenen Vertretern, je nach dem, ob sie sich einer Prüfung unterzogen haben oder nicht, besteht nicht." poin 2.4.

I became a grandfather with 29 and after being fed with remarks on my lack of qualification, I have asked if I can sit the EQE.

A: I would be allowed to sit the EQE at the age of 32, becuase I could prove that I have worked under my own supervision for 3 years - my results would be corrected, but no decission as to the passing could be taken because I would not be adversly affected.

David said...

In response to the above comment, I think there is a big difference between those who become representatives by passing the EQEs and those who are 'grandfathered' in. The latter are unable to prove that they would be able to pass the same test that everyone else has to meet. This inevitably raises suspicions about their ability, regardless of how long they have been in practice.

examiner said...


there is a difference in the quality of represenatatives and Hoffmann-Eitle or Young will (normally) be beter than no-name start up.

However: only 6 of 26 chairmen of BoA have passed EQE, but still (almost) no one raises suspicions about their ability....

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