UK patent exams update: Proctoring system will no-longer be used, but exams still to go ahead with "simpler" invigilation system

The patent examination board (PEB) has issued another update on the online UK exams that will be held later this year. In a crucial update, the PEB has now announced that the third party proctoring software that the PEB were planning to use for the exams will now be replaced by a "simpler" invigilation system.  

Kat after a 5 hour computer-based exam
As reported by IPKat last month, candidates were told about the proctoring software that would be used for the exams in a CIPA hosted webinar. Candidates were encouraged to look up a YouTube video of the software to familiarise themselves with how it would work. The software would reportedly require a webcam on your laptop, a phone camera positioned behind you and would record any and all disturbances in your environment. Furthermore, only one monitor would be permitted. However, many of the details of the software were still sketchy.

In the latest PEB statement, the PEB announces that the software is now not viewed as providing the "optimum solution for PEB candidates". We are left in the dark as to why the software was not "optimal".  In any case, it seems that the plan is now to use a simpler form of remote invigilation. Importantly, the PEB reassures candidates that "the Pre-Registration Information for Candidates will be largely unchanged: the examinations will be delivered online to be taken in candidates’ own home, at another private address, or at their workplace".

The PEB announcement came, without fanfare, at the same time as the deadline for paying the exam fees (non-refundable except in exceptional circumstances e.g. illness). It seems that many candidates are unaware of the change. Candidates will therefore have either committed to taking or not taking the exams this year on the basis of what was known about the previous system. It is unclear what the new requirements will be. However, the PEB indicates that "the minimum IT requirements are currently being reviewed and simplified as much as possible and will be communicated to candidates in due course". In any case, it now seems that some of the information on the PEB's own FAQabout the exams, in particular the IT requirements, may now be incorrect.

Further details of the Pre-Registration information has also been provided. Importantly, the deadline for candidates to change the venue of where they wish to take the exams is 31 August 2020. "Essential Information for Candidates" will not be issued until 1 month before the exams.

Stay tuned to IPKat for further updates.
UK patent exams update: Proctoring system will no-longer be used, but exams still to go ahead with "simpler" invigilation system UK patent exams update: Proctoring system will no-longer be used, but exams still to go ahead with "simpler" invigilation system Reviewed by Rose Hughes on Sunday, August 09, 2020 Rating: 5


  1. There is alot of doubt this year.

    Can a candidate withdraw this year and still get fees refunded. I don't think it unreasonable given that things keep changing.

  2. Couldn't the author have framed this article in a more constructive way?

    "We are left in the dark". "Details are still sketchy".

    A complex exam is being ported from hard-copy format to electronic format for the first time, by lay volunteers, with the best of intentions, to a difficult deadline, to enable students to take the exam, even though we are in the middle of an UNPREDICTED WORLDWIDE PANDEMIC.

    Candidates didn't need to sign up for the Exam this year if they didn't want to deal with the uncertainty.

    1. Exams that are necessary to become a Patent Attorney and have historically had numerous issues. If the PEB was not capable of providing the exams in a suitable format it should have been stated at the beginning. Frustrating, but everyone would have understood. Instead they have chosen to lead everyone down this windy road. The framing of the article is more than appropriate.

    2. I think it would be more accurate to say that historically, candidates failing the PEB exam have had numerous issues, until the moment that they pass the exam.

      From that moment forward, such candidates are distracted from their selfless and community-spirited interest in the fairness, or not, of the PEB exam system, presumably because they are too busy whinging to their bank manager about the latest injustice to beset them - viz - about the affordability of a mortgage on a natty little post-qualification 2 bedroom flat in Reading located within fair striking distance of the station and a deli that sells acceptable olives.

      The PEB is between a rock and a hard place. They are obviously sensitive to critical comments and are rather transparent nowadays. Short of providing the model answer stapled to the back of the question sheet - it's hard to see what more they can do. Every year there is a hard-core of unsuccessful candidates who publish wild conspiracy theories, often on this blog, about the unpredictability of the exam, and the supposed need of the PEB need to restrict entry. It is madness.

      Such candidates ought to invest in "the little book of calm", and then direct their efforts towards learning how to construe a claim, and then how to transfer the answer onto a PEB answer sheet in a coherent manner. Or, only rely on the EQE - which, quite a lot of attorneys do nowadays, to no visible career detriment.

      Cancel the PEB exams - complaints. Try to run them electronically - complaints. Ignore COVID and carry on with "analogue" exams - you bet there would be complaints - "PEB allegedly trying to restrict entry to UK profession by infecting candidates with killer disease"

      Why don't we just shut down the PEB, not have a UK qualification, and rely on the EPA exams? You don't need an exam to represent at the UKIPO.

    3. Demonstrating that completely lobotomy of community-spirited interest well there.

    4. Nothing wrong with our IPKAT are informing those with PEB. Some of their articles in the past have just highlighted how frustrating many people are (including qualified attorneys) about PEB examination.

      In this case, I can completely understand that candidates need clarity. Many will have to buy or may have already bought IT equipment so to keep changing things is NOT ideal. I think that is understandable.

    5. Following the review by Middlesex University (2015) there is the Mercer Review. I wonder how many other examining bodies have a review every five years? This is deeper than a few candidates who struggle to pass. As others mention below, the author of this comment seems hopelessly out of touch with the realities of the modern exam.

    6. "A complex exam is being ported from hard-copy format to electronic format for the first time, by lay volunteers"

      Just FYI, trainees pay the PEB an exam fee to sit the exam (sometimes with their own money). PEB are not volunteers doing it for free, they all get money from it. If they want a fee they have to be treated like a commercial education organisation and should be held to the same standards. If they don't want to be held to the same standards, step aside and let me give my money to a different organisation that can deliver a fair exam.

    7. Agree with Anon@16:00. Despite PEB not wanting an anon forum for trainees (as discussed in the PEB webinar for FD4 mentors), i think it is important that this continues. Hopefully this can inform other people wanting to enter the profession about the qualification process.

      Agree again with Anon@16:00, i nearly bought a new smartphone, glad i didn't now. still need to buy a printer though.

    8. I think that if you (the PEB) has such a bad reputation (fair or otherwise) for failing to take your customers (the candidates) considerations seriously you have to expect your actions to be cast in a poor light.

      If you (the PEB) want the benefit of the doubt then put some effort into building a good reputation. I am sure there is a child’s story about this, something about crying wolf?

      “Candidates didn't need to sign up for the Exam this year if they didn't want to deal with the uncertainty.”

      This is the attitude I find baffling and despicable about a lot of the comments in support of the PEB. It attempts to provide very matter of fact easy to follow advice but fails to consider the real world factors.

      Many candidates are not in control of when they take these exams. Instead their firm either has very strong expectations of when the exams will be taken or dictates when the exams will be taken.

      Even when a candidate is in total control of when they take the exams choosing to delay is not an easy or straightforward option. The UK profession as a whole is built around these exams, pay rises and promotions are heavily influenced if not completely dependent on these exams despite the fact that their is no legal or regulatory requirement to be qualified in order to represent people before the UKIPO. A point that is clearly well understood by the PEB given the framing of many of the legal paper questions where a non-qualified person handles the patent matters for another party.

    9. “Lay volunteers”

      Seems a bit rude to describe the PEB examiners like that.

      lay (adj) [before noun]

      not trained in or not having a detailed knowledge of a particular subject

      I thought they were all qualified patent attorneys. I assume they have some training and a reasonable knowledge of UK patent law.

      volunteer (noun)

      a person who does something, especially helping other people, willingly and without being forced or paid to do it

      It was my understanding they were paid for their work so they are a volunteer in the same way I volunteer for my day job.

  3. To me, PEB has been behind several professional examinations for many years and even behind universities. They have failed to adapt. Why does a pandemic has to happen for them to start thinking about change. Not acceptable given the fees they charge students now for the exams. There should be no excuse as to why PEB is so far behind other professional examination boards.

    1. Lack of competition means that they don't need to innovate as much and provides no motivation for PEB to change the examination system. Lack of planning for the future (even before the pandemic) is certainly a fair point and questions does need to be raised.

  4. When is the Mercer review coming out. Its been two years now or is it criticism to even ask this.

    1. A summary of the preliminary findings was published in the latest CIPA journal. Can be viewed online here

      I was pretty shocked by the findings, not sure whose submissions they were reading.

  5. "Short of providing the model answer stapled to the back of the question sheet - it's hard to see what more they can do"

    How about testing candidates on the syllabus that they set? (see 2019 FD4 advice section)

  6. "Such candidates ought to invest in "the little book of calm", and then direct their efforts towards learning how to construe a claim"

    I think you are showing your age. Most people pass construction with good marks. The amount of marks available in the earlier sections of the paper is reduced nowadays. So while you used to be able to pass with good con, inf and nov sections, that isnt the case anymore.

    So if you wanted to insult 65% of entrants for the last two years, you probably should have told them to go and learn inventive step...

  7. In summary... everyone is fed up with the PEB. Yet the mercer review seems to say we need more of the fact i think it says we need more exams that PEB control (e.g. foundations only, IPAC course for patent attorneys)?

    I think most people are fed up with the test itself, how you take the test is minor in comparison to this but enough to tip people over the edge.

    On the plus side, we've had a number of trainees leave over the last few months. Realised that NQ rates after 4-6 years of study are a bit of a rip off if you're good at coding. Good on them, at least they can do something of value, instead of copying japanese instructions and finding basis.

  8. I must say that UK patent attorneys are amongst the lowest attorneys paid. Others IN European countries, US and Asian countries pay their attorneys much more.

    So having difficult exams does not necessarily give good pay and further, it frustrates many in the profession. You work so hard but get paid less then everybody else in other countries. Why?

    Is it because candidates spend far too long doing these exams? At the end of the day - experience matters most but the UK profession doesn't seem to factor this in.

  9. So after all that - basically nothing needs to change for the final exams. What is the point of the review in the first place.

  10. Reason why PEB wants more control of exams is so they can make money out of candidates.

    It needs more competition not a market dominance.

  11. Thanks to IPKAT - many candidates and qualified attorney feel it is a safe space. Not many safe places in the IP profession but this is one of them so keep it up.

    There have been praises for CIPA and PEB when it was due like the way they tried to hold the EQE board to account with the EQE exams.

    But equally, PEB should note the amount of disatisifcation of the PEB exams by many. This is not just a few years - it has been running on for decades, even when I sat the exams around 2008.

  12. Firstly, the easiest thing to do this year would have been to cancel the exams altogether. Consider the uproar if this had happened.

    Secondly, the exams could have been set to take place in the traditional format in various exam venues, with the possibility of last-minute cancellation in view of local/national lockdowns. Consider the uproar - in fact, think back to what happened with the EQEs this year. CIPA and the PEB wanted to avoid this possibility and the anxiety it would cause candidates.

    Thirdly, bearing in mind the first and second points, the decision was made to hold the exams 'online'. Once made, a small group of people (which includes both patent attorney members of PEB and lay members of PEB) had to determine how best to conduct the exams, from both candidates' perspectives and the perspective of IPReg. Bear in mind that a wholesale restructuring of the exams to suit an online test environment was not possible in the timeframe, and nevertheless would have needed approval from at least IPReg if not the profession at large. Consider the uproar if the examinations were completely changed in style and format this year, to better suit an online test environment! It is IPReg who specified that the exams must be strictly invigilated or proctored to prevent cheating and therefore, the PEB had to work out a system to achieve this, given that candidates may choose to, or need to, sit the exams at home, and in-person invigilation is not possible given the COVID-19 social-distancing requirements.

    Fourthly, a proctoring system was identified, but it was then determined not to be suitable for all the PEB exams (which vary in duration, among other things). This was determined in late-July, which still gives the PEB time to identify a suitable replacement which satisfies IPReg's requirements. Consider the uproar if this was determined in September, or shortly before exam week. The PEB could, again, have simply cancelled the exams when they made this determination. However, they are trying to find a replacement so that the exams can go ahead. As soon as they have sorted this aspect, they will update you about the exact IT equipment you need for the invigilation/proctoring. However, it is already clear that the exams are online, and that you will need a computer, a monitor, Word, and an internet connection. Other pieces of kit, such as printers, scanners and webcams, are readily available on the market and can be purchased, if necessary, once the IT requirements are finalised, and there will likely be ample time for your own IT departments to help sort out any connectivity issues.


    1. Chill out. Most people think the current regime are doing a good job about porting these online.

    2. I think people feel comfortable using a platform like this. Let's not destroy free speech and it is very useful for holding lots of firms (not just PEB) to account within reason. It just needs to be respectful and constructive.

      I think the problem is that not many feel completely comfortable reporting it formally to PEB or CIPA because maybe little or no action/consideration was taken in the past.

      It is clear that PEB/CIPA needs to regain trust in some parts of the profession.

  13. Cont...

    Fifthly, each year, many, many trainees provide feedback to the PEB, as well as on sites like this, stating that the exams should be typed in future, as handwriting is slow and they don't handwrite work in their day jobs. This year, this wish has been granted!

    Sixthly, the EQEs will possibly be going online in 2021. UK EQE candidates who are taking the PEB exams this October effectively have a chance to experience an online exam before March 2021.

    Seventhly, the format and style of the exams remains the same this year as previous years, and the only thing that has changed is how the exams will be conducted. Thus, many candidates should consider spending more time on preparing for the exams, which is entirely in their control, than worrying about the specifics of how the exams will be conducted, which is not in their control.

    Finally, trainees have the *option* to sit the exams this year. The desire to pass as soon as possible, in order to get a payrise, is understandable, and was understood by both CIPA and the PEB. However, if a trainee decides not to take the exams this year because of any perceieved uncertainty with the exam system, that is their choice. It is not the PEB's fault or CIPA's fault if their salaries are tied to exam passes or qualification level. Candidates should take such gripes up with their **employers**, who are the *only* parties in control of salaries, payrises, bonuses and titles.

    1. Does the PEB ever accept responsibility for anything?....

      FD4 2018...everyone is stupid, this is simple technology
      FD4 2019... we didn't follow the syllabus, give us a break... we're just volunteers...
      2020..... we only had 7 months to "create" online exams... this has never been done in the history of humanity before...

      The fact that everyone thinks the PEB are ridiculous apart from the hardcore who are paid by them should suggest something? No? okay then...

    2. It is unfair to suggest that trainees are rushing to sit the exams this year just to get a payrise. For example, I have passing FD4 as one of my appraisal targets and cannot defer the exam to another year without good reason (e.g. if I went on maternity leave).

    3. Unfortunately the "hardcore" are over-represented in the regulatory framework.

      Is it really that crazy to insist that no PEB examiners/ JDD tutors are on the education committee/ipreg that are supposed to hold the PEB to account?

      Also i'm not sure how much these theories about taking exams too soon play out in reality.

      Every year the PEB produce some psuedo-science statistics to try and show some sort of logic to the final exams.... a few years ago the correlation was time in the profession... now it seems to be doing PEB foundations... who wants to guess what next year's correlation will be?...

      What seems crazy is the amount of air time this sort of stuff gets in CIPA, with almost no space dedicated to an opposing view.
      Yes, I got the email about CIPA & PEB being separate CIPA should actually show it. This was a preliminary finding of the mercer review btw, which has now been "fixed" by CIPAs email to everyone... before anyone has actually seen the proper report.

      CIPA are already updating their patent training manuals for trainees (see latest email)... another "preliminary finding" of mercer... this is such a whitewash.... giving themselves outcomes that they can say they have already fixed.... nothing to see here.... move along....

  14. Instead of the CIPA journal attacking candidates for taking exams and trying to better themselves, I would like PEB/CIPA to actually try and understand the working environment and how little choice or flexibility the profession has for trainees.

    A trainee has limited options available to them and there is basically no career progression as they are pinned down by the weight of the exams. Only exams matter. Nothing else. I have colleagues who are super talented but because they can't get pass one or two exams for several years, they cannot move onto another grade boundary. Yet - experience counts for nothing. Worse of all, trainees have been told to pay for their own exams.

    Firms expect candidates to take the exams. Some firms would kick out candidates who fail more than twice. There is a systemic problem with the profession. The balance of protecting clients vs over burdening candidates in the profession is not correct at the moment.

    Every year PEB hike fees up and this causes firms and individuals to try and beat them by taking the exams as soon as possible. 20% increase year on year is a substantial amount of money for an individual. My pay rise does not increase 20% every year to keep up.

    1. The FD4 chief examiner spent a webinar stating that this was an important test and will give them confidence that you can hang your sign on the door. I think if you wanted to give confidence you should replace FD4 with IPAC for patent attorneys. This would have alot bigger impact on safety to the client.

      Please note mercer i said replace, not in addition. 4- 6 years of tests is very unappealing and puts off the best talent when you can join a start up, or you can become a solicitor and already have 2 years post qualified experience during the same time (and much better salary).

      As an aside, i dont understand why firms place such an emphasis on UK qualified. it means nothing. As someone has pointed out, you don't need it to represent a client at the UKIPO. Given that charge out rates/hours go up irrespective of UK qualified, it suggests firms dont care about it for the clients, it only matters when it comes to salary because its not discrimination to pay you less if you haven't passed the qualification.

    2. Exactly - UK qualification appears to be used only a tool to suppress wages. It's got nothing to do with keeping clients safe.

      Many EQE attorneys can do the job perfectly well and are clearly allowed to advise clients in the UK so I don't buy the fact that UK qualification is there to protect clients in the UK.

    3. I believe UK qualification has an impact on liability and insurance. There would be risks associated with a non UK qualified person giving an opinion under UK law. If you cant pass P6 after a few attempts, then maybe consider a different career.

    4. Opinion in the UK is only relevant really for infringement.
      The UKIPO offers a fantastic opinion on infringement at a fraction of a price and I would seriously look into the UKIPO to save clients money rather than getting one from a UK attorney who (for the majority) are not even confident about the advice they give. Many opinions I see seem to be sitting on the fence.

    5. Don't change career. Move to Germany, I did and haven't looked back.

    6. "I would seriously look into the UKIPO to save clients money rather than getting one from a UK attorney who (for the majority) are not even confident about the advice they give..."

      Looks like FD4 is doing its job then.... I don't know why PEB & CIPA persist with this exam when it is serving nobody. They could actually use this as an exercise to show what a good (and useful) I&V opinion looks like, how law is applied, even throw in a client interview and a moot or something so you have to defend your opinion... instead the emphasis is on exam technique and second guessing a markscheme... seems such a waste of time for everyone involved (apart from the PEB who collect their fees regardless).

    7. To the one suggesting changing careers if you cannot pass P6 after a few attempts - what a spectacularly thoughtless comment. Why should anyone give up a perfectly good career they are completely capable of succeeding in just because they cannot pass a pointless, unfit-for-purpose exam?

  15. Can we withdraw from the exams and have fees refunded. If PEB keep changing things (as it appears they are) I think it is highly unfair for PEB to not refund exam fees. What we were told in July may not be what we do in October.

  16. I think some of the authors above attacking IPKAT just shows what a great job IPKAT does in reporting PEB to the wider community and allowing for accountability/scrutiny. I don't think PEB should shy away from scrutiny and actually, use some of the feedback here as a platform to modernise the profession and improve the examination process.

    I would urge IPKAT to continue to post things about PEB because an awful lot of people are affected by the decisions of PEB.


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