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Thursday, 16 October 2014

Chemists and mech/elecs unite!

The IPKat has been alerted to a change in format for the EQE (the qualifying exam to become a European Patent Attorney), thanks to Bart van Wezenbeek of V.O. Patents & Trademarks, who learnt of it last week at a meeting between EPO exam committee members and the EPO tutors, where it apparently created quite a stir .

The EQE: apparently 7,000 candidates have passed
it since 1979, so Merpel reasons it can't be that hard, can it?
A brief notice on the EQE homepage explains the change:

With effect from 2017, a single Paper A and a single Paper B will be set each year. As for current Paper C and the Pre-Examination, Papers A and B will be set in technical fields that are accessible to everyone.  

Currently, the drafting and amendment papers (A & B) are available in two versions: one for electrical and mechanical candidates, the other for chemists and life scientists. It was apparently pointed out during the discussion at the meeting that some countries do not have any drafting paper (DE) and that the UK exam already was limited to one drafting paper in the equivalent P3 and P4 exams. 


Bart wondered aloud to the IPKat if UK chemists/life scientists might share their thoughts on whether this change is desirable? Well, no sooner had the IPKat begun drafting this post than he received an email from an eminent UK chemical patent attorney who prefers to remain anonymous, and who says:

It seems to me that this will place chemistry/pharmaceutical/biotechnology specialists at a great disadvantage.  Indeed, many of those of us whose training experience is solely in those fields currently exercise the option to opt out of UK papers P3 and P4 and sit the chemical EQE papers (though I realise that the UK exemption is currently under debate).

For those of us in private practice, it may be relatively straightforward to pick up some simple mechanical drafting experience – though one would have to question whether it is a cost-effective or ethical use of clients’ time and money to hand drafting work to trainees who are non-mechanically inclined and who will not, ultimately, specialise in that subject matter.  (The “generalist” patent attorney seems largely to be a thing of the past now, at least as far as new trainees in the larger firms are concerned).



For those training in-house in industry – say in petrochemical companies or big pharma – I foresee huge problems afoot.  Where are they expected to gain mechanical drafting and prosecution experience?
Also today, a blog post has appeared on the CIPA Informals site where the change is again discussed and views have been sought:
You may recall that IPReg launched a consultation earlier this year in which they proposed removing UK papers P3 and P4. They believed that more UK trainees sit EQE Papers A and B and then claim exemptions from the ‘equivalent’ UK exams (P3 and P4), and thus, the UK papers were redundant. (See our previous post about this here.)

The Informals have sent an email to IPReg today (16 October) informing them about this change. We note that this is an example of how we in the UK should not be so reliant on the EQEs as a means to dual-qualifying as UK and EP attorneys, because the EPO implements changes to the exams without any sort of public consultation. Moreover, it is questionable whether the EQE drafting and amendment papers test the same skills as the UK papers, particularly in recent years.

What do you all think? Are you a trainee who is affected by this change? Will your supervisors be able to train you on how to prepare for mechanical drafting and amendment papers? Or did they also only sit the Chemical EQE Papers A and B, and not P3 and P4? Feel free to comment on the blog, via Twitter (@CIPAYellowSheet) or by email.
The IPKat, for his part, wonders if anyone can cite a figure for the percentage of UK attorneys who sit the UK drafting and amendment papers rather than using their EQE results to gain an exemption from these papers. He has heard that some firms insist on their candidates qualifying "the proper way" via the CIPA exams, this being seen as a more stringent test than the corresponding EQE papers.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

To answer the question set in the final paragraph of the post, according to the IPREG consultation paper:

"The UK drafting and amendment exams are only taken and passed by approximately half of all trainees, with the remainder relying upon the EQE exemptions."

Anonymous said...

"...some firms insist .... this being seen as a more stringent test than the corresponding EQE papers"

Such firms drafting plenty of tin, as opposed to gold, applications from what I hear.

Anonymous said...

RE:"With effect from 2017, a single Paper A and a single Paper B … in technical fields that are accessible to everyone. "

Quite boring news unless presented in combination with registration fee reduction AND possibility to sit exams two times per year AND free sandwiches for re-sitters.

John said...

@anon 13:56

That's an interesting comment - how do you mean?

Anonymous said...

I would question whether the EPO is acting in its own best interests here. Part of the purpose of the EQE is to ensure that professional representatives are of at least certain basic standard so that Examiners do not have to waste time hand-holding incompetent attorneys through the procedure.

They are now opening themselves up to a situation where chemical/biotech applications will be drafted and prosecuted by people who haven't demonstrated, by passing an exam, that they meet the basic competency requirements of the EPO. What will this do for the backlog, I wonder?

Anonymous said...

RE: They are now opening themselves up to a situation where chemical/biotech applications will be drafted and prosecuted by people who haven't demonstrated, by passing an exam, that they meet the basic competency requirements of the EPO. What will this do for the backlog, I wonder?

qualified attorneys can always seek help of technical/scientific consulting with any sort of technologies.

Anonymous said...

RE: "With effect from 2017, a single Paper A and a single Paper B … in technical fields that are accessible to everyone. "

In such a case, the EQE might be also open for legally only qualified candidates. The technical fields are anyway accessible to everyone.

Anonymous said...

Are the pass rates for both (Elec & Mech versus Chem) of the A and B papers reported seperately? If so, what do they tell us?

With respect to the wondering of Bart Pharma firms usually have a fair amount of mechanical work covering kit, packaging etc and this is sometimes enough to justify an attorney with a mechanical background. In the future I can see all that work being snapped up by trainees - whether there will be anyone there at the right level to monitor their work is another matter.

Anonymous said...

My understanding is that there is currently nothing stopping attorneys from qualifying through the mech/elec route and then drafting chem/bio, so do we really think anything would change in practice?

Anonymous said...

Is it so clear that Papers A and B will necessarily be mecanical? What if now mecanical candidates need to study case law in chemistry and biotech (at last)?

Anonymous said...

RE: My understanding is that there is currently nothing stopping attorneys from qualifying through the mech/elec route and then drafting chem/bio, so do we really think anything would change in practice?

Less traffic created by exam committee members between Munich and other European cities?

Anonymous said...

Please take this comment in the humour it is intended:

Since patent law will become universal, and the direction of that law from the US (think Myriad, Prometheus, and Alice) is that biochem and even chem is nothing more than natural products and application of natural law, that there need be no test for these areas as there will be nothing patent eligible in these areas.

Onward progress.

Anonymous said...

From a strictly biased point of view, I qualified first in Australia. Because it's a relatively small profession, it didn't have the resources to set two drafting papers, so we all did the same drafting paper, which was invariably a simple mechanical invention. So I, a chemist dealing with chemical inventions, had to learn the mysteries of things rotatably mounted and resiliently connected and the like. I passed a paper that confronted me with a valve for a pressure cooker.

Frankly, I think being forced to do this was one of the most useful things I ever did. It gave me a versatility that was missing in those who had done only chemistry. My fellow attorneys in later employment would run away from anything that vaguely sniffed of mechanical, whereas I ran towards it. It saved the company a lot of money, because they didn't have to put the work outside. I am still "Inspector Gadget" in my present chemistry-related employment.

In my opinion, one doesn't have to be a mechanical expert, but the broadening of horizons is no bad thing.

Anonymous said...

Simple solution: make everyone do both the mechanical and chemical papers. There's too many attorneys anyway, so let's raise the barrier to entry ;-P

But seriously, I agree with Anonymous at 2014-10-16 15:39:00. This type of mechanical drafting work is a good grounding regardless of your field, IMHO.

Chem/biotech trainees shouldn't fear the mechanical drafting and amendment papers. Paper C (and P6 in the UK) are, I think, almost always mechanically themed, so it might even help them there. (full disclosure: I took the chemical EQE papers and wasn't required to pass P3/4).

One could also argue that mechanical specialists would benefit from an understanding of the type of work involved in chemical-type drafting and prosecution. In this profession we're all generalists to one degree or another and it doesn't hurt to broaden your horizons.

Peter Arrowsmith said...

I am fairly ambivalent about the need for separate A and B papers. There is only one subject matter choice in the UK and in paper C and nobody seems to object!

I think that this demonstrates the danger in relying on the EQEs, and a good reason that we should keep our UK qualification exams. Future changes could easily be made to the EQEs that take them in an undesirable direction without the agreement or control of the UK profession

Anonymous said...


In a similar vein to Anonymous (Thursday, 16 October 2014 15:38:00 BST), it seems clear that as all software can be reduced to mathematics (and is therefore merely a discovery), and mechanical inventions could fairly be regarded as obvious recapitulations and recombinations of the six simple machines (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simple_machine), then the paper should properly be concerned with electrical subject matter since nothing else is patentable...

*extracts tongue from cheek*

Anonymous said...

My dear Anonymous @ 15:43,

You do not go far enough, as it is beyond reproach that anything electrical is subsumed into the software "Void."

The only thing left that escapes the laws of nature/products of nature are - surprisingly - business methods, since it is only a creation purely of mankind that business exists.

Anonymous said...

Is it a wrong impression or, indeed, proposed changes to EQE papers is a preparation to taking over UK national examination/qualification by EPO? There must be some strategic value in UK jurisdiction, I guess.

Anonymous said...

It is fairly clear that the EPO case law and practice has substantial differences between mech. and chem.

Furthermore, the differences have been increasing in recent years.

Paper C already does not reflect these differences.

I find deeply troubling that the EQE will no longer reflect the current and future EPO practice and law, thus its role to prepare candidates 'fit to practice' - a core EPO responsibility - will be diminished. Note that this does not necessarily require the EPO carrying out the exam themselves, but ensuring the exam relevance is a core responsibility of the EPO.

Considering that the single and only motivation for this seems to be cost-cutting, one could ask if the EPO would be better saving money from pork barrel projects and top-level perks, instead of cutting in its core responsibilities.

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