UK patent exams update: Final version of FAQs released

Following on from the updates to the FAQs earlier this week, the Patent Examination Board (PEB) have now released a final version of the FAQs. Candidates have 1 day left to change their elected exam location (deadline 31 August 2020). This is also the deadline for specifying your Designated Contact if taking the exam at work. The latest information can be read here.

In a welcome improvement to communications, exam updates are now being distributed via the CIPA mailing list.

Designated contacts

There has clearly been considerable concern from candidates and firms regarding the strict lack of conflict requirements for Designated Contacts. In the latest update, we learn that it is not possible to nominate more than one Designated Contact, although a deputy can be appointed. As per a previous update, the Designated Contact does not have to be a patent attorney.

Anxious candidates waiting for clarity
The PEB also now acknowledges that it will be difficult for small firms to avoid conflicts of interest. According to the latest FAQs, the Designated Contact will be asked to declare all conflicts of interest. These conflicts will be kept in a log, which will be available for review by the Examiners, PEB and IPReg. No information is given as to what circumstances would prompt a review, and what would then be done with the information.

Screen breaks and exam timings

We still don't know how long the exams will be or how much screen break time will be given. We also don't know how long candidates will be given to print the paper at the beginning and to scan their answers at the end. The FAQs indicate that the PEB know this information but that they are choosing not to divulge it at the moment: "Total fixed time allocations have been calculated and tested" (Q. 13c).

Form of the question paper

In a welcome update, we now know that the question paper will be issued as a searchable PDF (Q 14b). Also, according to Q 19a, the full functionality of word should be available. Furthermore, it seems that it will be possible for candidates to access email, under the supervision of the Designated Contact, in order to receive scanned documents.

Laptops and headphones

In another welcome update, it seems there has been some roll-back on the requirement for laptops to be clean (i.e. completely free of work documents). Understandably, this was probably not going to be possible for most candidates. In the latest update, the PEB indicates that, where candidates are unable to use clean laptops, it will be the responsibility of the candidate to ensure that they do not inadvertently access "prohibited material".

We also learn that the use of headphones will not be permitted (unless approved as a Reasonable Adjustment).

Further information?

At some point in September candidates will be able to test the system. The PEB, as yet, has not been able to finalise the timings for these tests (Q 29). For any further updates, candidates will now have to wait for the "essential information for candidates" which the PEB promise will be posted on their website in "mid-September".

Preparing for the UK patent exams is stressful at the best of times. It is unsurprising that the unusual arrangements this year are making candidates particularly anxious. The lack of clarity and last minute changes from the PEB are understandable, given the considerable challenge of running these exams online for the first time (and of keeping the exams IPReg compliant). However, it is also unsurprising that the PEB is facing a flood of enquiries from worried candidates. To improve relations, this Kat would advocate a commonsensical approach from the PEB. After all, candidates and Designated Contacts are professionals acting in good faith. It would not be in the interests of any qualified attorney or firm to help candidates cheat these exams.

IPKat has been informed that the PEB have received a number of abusive emails. This is, of course, not helpful for anyone and will detract from legitimate enquiries. Please keep messages to the PEB and comments below civil.

Update, 3 September 2020: A reader has kindly devised a short survey about FD4/P6 (see comments below). Take the survey here.
UK patent exams update: Final version of FAQs released UK patent exams update: Final version of FAQs released Reviewed by Rose Hughes on Sunday, August 30, 2020 Rating: 5


  1. I've spent more time worrying about how to met with all of these criteria listed by PEB. Revision this year has been soo stressful.

  2. Honestly, I'm so fed up with the PEB.

    What sort of organisation refuses to answer any questions when they clearly haven't finalised the exams. Imagine if they stopped FAQ's last week with no notice, everyone would currently be buying unused laptops.

    This is just another way to avoid any scrutiny, in the same way that they won't respond to anonymous questions anymore even if the question is perfectly valid.

    Mercer was talking about removing the exemption for drafting and amendment. Alot of people i talk to don't mind sitting drafting or amendment, they just hate the idea of giving more money to this organisation. How can an education provider be so universally despised and yet continue to have a monopoly?

    1. I think they should remove all PEB exams . Doesn't help with the job anyway.

  3. I'm very worried that the final exam time has not yet been provided- how can candidates practice to time? Exams are in a matter of weeks- if PEB have "calculated and tested" the exam time- why are they not sharing it with candidates?

  4. Same here - completely worried about doing these exams to time with NO information whatsoever on the exam format.

    These are very difficult exams and there is basically no information for candidates. How are candidates supposed to prepare and practice papers to time?

    it doesn't help that many people in PEB or those associated with PEB have an attitude that if you don't like the exam format this year, you can do it next year. That is very unprofessional in my opinion and I'm shocked that those with this attitude appeared to be quite senior people in the IP profession. They need to be responsible for the exams they run - not fob candidates off if they have questions.

    It is valid and right to ask questions on exams. They also forget that candidates spent an awful lot of their time (spare time) for free revising. Yes it Is a candidates choice to sit the exams but they also pay PEB exam fees so please can PEB be a bit more professional and listen to candidates concerns.

    1. "Yes it Is a candidates choice to sit the exams"

      I'd disagree on that point, it isn't candidates choice to take the exams. Candidates choose the profession, and in reality in order to participate in the profession (i.e. to use the reserved professional titles that users look for) it is necessary for candidates to sit the exams, i.e. participants in the profession do not have a choice whether or not to sit the exams.

      I consider it undoubtable that maintaining high professional standards benefits all concerned (user's get a better service, and at least in result of the 'guarantee' of that better service providers are able to charge more). In that respect, examinations which ensure candidates are capable of providing a 'good' service, i.e. that candidates are 'fit to practice' seem undoubtedly a good thing.

      But the accusation that is constantly levelled at PEB is that the exams don't satisfactorily perform that function, at least in that they hold-back candidates who are undoubtedly fit to practice, and indeed who are often many years EPA qualified. I've observed on numerous occasions crap (commercially and/or technically inept) trainees passing exams where candidates that I see as far better, i.e. far fitter to practice, fail exams. And everybody knows that P6 in particular is in large part pot luck.

      But the PEB seem insistent on ignoring the voluminous critiscm of the exams that they receive each year, along with the purported objective of the exams, and craft exams year on year that are not aimed at testing fitness to practice, but in testing exam technique, and moreover which appear to have the main objective of limiting pass rates and so access to the profession.

      The CMA in its 2017 legal service market study appeared sceptical as to the merit of the reservations of professional titles, and my reading is that, considering the legal profession as whole, the CMA was only just about convinced to continue allowing professional title reservations. Even for the selfish preservation of the charge out rates of members of the profession, the PEB should thus be mindful that the exams should be aimed only at testing fitness to practice, and not have even the side effect of unduly limiting access to the profession, i.e. access to the professional titles.

    2. "But the PEB seem insistent on ignoring the voluminous critiscm of the exams that they receive each year, along with the purported objective of the exams, and craft exams year on year that are not aimed at testing fitness to practice, but in testing exam technique"

      Agree with everything said above. However, this is hardly surprising when P6 examiners make more money from selling training courses to pass the exam than they earn marking the papers.

      I think it is also highly debatable whether patent attorneys really have the required experience to be setting (and marking) infringement and validity exams. This was a point alluded to by IPREG in their submissions to the mercer review, where they pointed out that PEB do not allow solicitors, barristers, judges etc. to take part in P6 exam setting and marking, when it is likely they will all have more experience than most of the patent attorneys marking this exam.

      All this said, I don't expect anything to ever change. IPREG have publicly stated that they have received complaints from trainees and examiners that FD4 is unfit for purpose, the middlesex report stated that in its current form FD4 unfit for purpose, most people don't understand why they passed FD4 unlike the other final exams, however the preliminary findings of mercer suggest that there are no issues?

    3. Yes, imagine an Examiner of the amendment exam who has only ever proposed draft responses and never heard what the patent office had to say in reply?

      This is effectively the stock of knowledge present in the FD4 examiner pool. Only a small number of (mainly in-house) patent attorneys have a full life cycle of seeing a case from an initial opinion to court/licensing. It seems very strange that many people are held back based on this test when it has no bearing on being fit to practice.

      It is even stranger to me that this is considered a skill that you must show you are competent at within a time limit, which is much much less than would be dedicated to such an issue in real life. In my opinion, this encourages people who can't seen the other side of the argument (so don't know what they are missing) or at the very least, only pay lip service to it for the sake of "completing the paper".

      If you want to check someone is competent to do an I&V opinion, which comes about 3 times in a lifetime, why not allow them the same amount of time as would be spent on the real thing?

    4. In my view, the PEB, CIPA and IPREG need to have a long hard look at the exams, and ensure that they are testing only fitness to practice, to the extent that candidates who are fit to practice will pass, without requiring months of exam technique learning and a pot of luck on the day.

      As noted above, the CMA seemed not particularly impressed with legal professional title reservations.

      Yet the PEB /CIPA still at very opportunity bang-on like some out-of-touch colonialist about CPA qualification being 'the gold standard' - see eg (try and count the number of times you see 'gold standard' mentioned, and e.g. - item 8 of council minutes "Matt Dixon said that he felt quite strongly that CIPA must promote chartered patent attorney status as the gold standard".

      Good for Matt Dixon - but if, as seems likely, the PEB/CIPA are basing the exams on allowing only 'gold standard' candidates to pass, I can't imagine that the CMA will be impressed. It is very obvious that sort of practice will restrict the supply of patent attorneys, and inevitably hike prices for users, in my view unduly. Imagine if the same limitation were applied to car sales, such that only 'gold standard' Rolls Royces were allowed to be sold. There would be a large unmet need for people who just want a fit for purpose, reliable, and appropriately performing car without marketing guff, and one supplier making unduly high profits though lack of proper competition.

      CIPA/PEB need a good shake-up, to lose the old school 'gold-standard' bunch, most of which probably sat (far fewer) exams decades ago, and in many cases are themselves far from 'gold-standard', and should realise that the exams should be testing fitness to practice only.

      The clear risk is that, if the CMA come a'knocking again, and realise that the UK exams are preventing highly qualified and experienced candidates, often with several years EPA qualification, from passing based e.g. on ridiculously arbitrary ideas of how patent claim features should be construed, the CMA appears liable to remove the reservation on professional titles.

  5. My best guess how I might have passed FD4 (or P6 as it was known when I took it) is that I looked at the claimed integers and construed them using the functional language in the description. I put no thought into how this played into the wider issues of infringement or novelty. I did however realise that if I arbitrarily decided to construe a particular integer narrowly, I would have something “interesting” to say about inventive step. I also realised early on in the exam that there were two embodiments in one prior art document. I was running out of time and took the gamble not to comment on the second embodiment just so that I could have a bit more time to focus on inventive step.

    I passed using pure exam technique without having to give any real consideration to infringement and validity (whilst being negligent in missing a novelty attack), which leads to the following question to those who profess that FD4 is fit for purpose. How and why is this so?

    I agree with the poster of this article that abuse is not acceptable. It also runs the risk of legitimate constructive criticism being deemed as “abuse” not worthy of a response. Perhaps a counter perspective to balance that of the examiner’s perspective in the CIPA journal might take the sting out of the debate.

    1. I'm not condoning the supposed abuse in any way but the PEB are equally guilty of this.

      Year after year in the webinars telling people that if they don't pass FD4 they aren't competent to be a patent attorney. Does anyone have any idea how damaging this can be to a persons self-esteem when they are told this but at the same time everyone acknowledges that P6 is a rubbish test?

      Review after review, submissions after submissions, and nothing ever gets changed through civil channels because all these channels are controlled by ex-PEB examiners who set up this system.

      When a previous poster (on another PEB IPkat article) highlighted that half of the marks awarded in the 2019 FD4 advice section were awarded for points of law that weren't even on the syllabus, the response from the PEB was that they don't respond to "anonymous" complaints/questions and so won't be replying.

      Don't condone any abuse, but the idea that this is just a few "bad apples" going in on the PEB is a completely false narrative, propagated by the PEB's chief propaganda machine (CIPA). It is the PEB who have created a rotten barrel, which is compromising all the apples stored inside.

    2. I am the poster of the comment to which you replied.

      I have been there with the same glorious cycle of being told year after year that I was not fit to practice. Although, I believe the phrase doing the rounds at the time was that I had “failed to meet the assessment criteria”. I view the exam even less favourably now than I did when I was still trying to pass it.

      Unfortunately, the exam does have a level of support across profession. I’m unsure of how much of a level, but it does exist, and it is just not PEB/CIPA affiliates.

      If each side in the debate just starts abusing the other, a resolution will never be found. Therefore, perhaps rising above the perceived abuse by PEB might be the way forward.

      Play the ball; not the wo(man). If PEB won’t respond to anonymous queries, perhaps outsource the question to someone who has no problems giving up their anonymity. Such a person shouldn’t be hard to find given the controversy the exam creates (IPkat blogger perhaps?). If they still won’t respond, write to IPreg pointing out PEB aren’t adhering to their own rules. Failing that, write to your local MP. Doesn’t the head of IPreg have a political background?

  6. "When a previous poster (on another PEB IPkat article) highlighted that half of the marks awarded in the 2019 FD4 advice section were awarded for points of law that weren't even on the syllabus, the response from the PEB was that they don't respond to "anonymous" complaints/questions and so won't be replying"

    Just to add, they didn't just refuse to respond, they rewrote their policy to state that they didn't respond to anonymous questions in response to receiving that anonymous question.

    The PEB have always gone out of their way to avoid any scrutiny. Don't see how this "abuse" changes anything.

  7. The problem with these exams is that they test preparation, not fitness to practice. This is why you get completely inexperienced trainees (who are certainly not fit to practice at that point in their careers) but who are very well *prepared* passing exams while completely competent qualified EPAs who find it hard to dumb down to the level required by the exams failing year after year. The fact of the matter is that once you get to a certain level of experience and competence, it is arguably harder to pass them (particularly true of P6 / FD4). It is actually quite hard to prepare for the exams when you know better. I wonder if any of the more experienced CPAs who don't agree with this might be willing to re-attempt the exam to disprove my point? No? Didn't think so.
    Why oh why is this substandard farce of an exam allowed to continue?

  8. I think we need to hear more from those who have qualified as CPA rather than the trainees. It is very easy to dismiss the concerns of the trainees saying they're just not ready to take the exams, or worse, they're just not made of the "right stuff" for the profession.

    So, here is a short survey solely for the qualifieds:

    IPKat willing, I will share the results in a week's time on here. (This was created over a lunch break so apologies if it's not perfect.)

    1. Good idea, after reading the preliminary findings of the mercer review and not recognising any of the findings, i was thinking about setting up a website where people could have their submissions open for viewing (i'm assuming cipa will not be publishing the submissions).

      This would require people to resend their submission, but i think a few people might do this, to see whether the reported findings are accurate.

      Is there any appetite for this?

    2. Happy to publish the results on IPKat - just send them our way:

    3. Where can one view the preliminary findings of the Mercer review?

    4. Bottom of the page:

    5. Thanks for setting up the survey. I have responded.

      Please do not allow trainee concerns to be dismissed. If you ever receive that as a response to a legitimate criticism of an exam, don’t take the bait, and instead ask them to explain the how and why your criticism is ill founded. A mature response along these lines actually shows who is fit to practise. Imagine responding to a legitimate novelty attack in an opposition with an Ad hominem attack on the speaker.

      Every member of the profession deserves to be treated with respect.

  9. I have always found that there is a detachment between PEB exams and real-life work. The PEB exams really have nothing to do with how competent you are at your job and other important soft skills are often ignored, leading to multiple problems for colleagues and firms.

  10. I'm concerned that PEB has been refusing to respond to candidates concerns on exam issues which in my view is their right to ask and the duty of the examination board to answer/respond to questions. You cannot decide to ignore questions or queries you don't like.

    I would like to remind PEB/CIPA that students pay a CIPA membership fee and pay exam fees. They should treat students much more fairly. They wouldn't ignore feedback given to a senior attorney or a large firm so please don't ignore the students with legitimate concerns about exams especially during these times.

    1. On this, it now seems policy of CIPA to send the renewal reminder to the accounts department directly (i.e. taking the student member out of the equation).

      I think this is a wise move by CIPA.

      If the renewal reminder had been sent to me, i wouldn't have forwarded and would have let the subscription lapse. I don't think CIPA represent trainees in any way and would prefer not to support them.

  11. I find it quite interesting the other week when P2/FD1 webinar was held and it was suggested that those with in-house experience are more likely to pass because the questions were more favourable to those in-house. A significant portion of the profession works in private practice so questions need to be fair for both sets of private practice trainees as well as in-house trainees. It should not be biased or tailored towards one set of trainees who trained in a particular setting.

  12. It is now less than a month before the exams start. We still do not know how long the exams will be, and have not received any further details of when candidates will be able to test the system. This just adds to the anxiety for what is already a stressful period of time for candidates.


All comments must be moderated by a member of the IPKat team before they appear on the blog. Comments will not be allowed if the contravene the IPKat policy that readers' comments should not be obscene or defamatory; they should not consist of ad hominem attacks on members of the blog team or other comment-posters and they should make a constructive contribution to the discussion of the post on which they purport to comment.

It is also the IPKat policy that comments should not be made completely anonymously, and users should use a consistent name or pseudonym (which should not itself be defamatory or obscene, or that of another real person), either in the "identity" field, or at the beginning of the comment. Current practice is to, however, allow a limited number of comments that contravene this policy, provided that the comment has a high degree of relevance and the comment chain does not become too difficult to follow.

Learn more here:

Powered by Blogger.