EPO plans radical shake-up of EQEs 2024 onwards

The online European Qualifying Examinations (eEQEs) are part of the EPO's overall digital strategy. The patent exams were moved online for the first time this year as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. However (like ViCo oral proceedings), the EQEs will continue to be held online, even post-pandemic. As part of the change to online exams, it has now become apparent that the EPO is planning a radical overhaul of the exams themselves, to be implemented by 2024. Part of the goal of this change is to make the exams more relevant tests of “fit-to-practise”. 

In moving online, the EPO endeavoured to keep the form and content of the exams as close as possible to the paper examinations. In 2022 and 2023, the EPO is expected to make only relatively minor changes to the exams, to better adapt the papers to the online format. Technical changes to the online platform are also expected, which will hopefully prevent a repeat of the issues faced by candidates this year (IPKat here and here). 

Revising for exams

However, from 2024, it seems that a major shake-up of the EQEs is on the cards. As outlined in a discussion paper published by epi today, the digitalisation of the EQE is being used as the catalyst for "a much more ambitious project that will significantly change the EQE in the future". According to the epi report, the aim is to update the EQEs to a new model which better tests the “fit-to-practise” criterion and makes the examination more effective for both students and the profession. 

The epi paper proposes a new system in which the EQE is split into a series of progressive online modules taken over the course of a candidate's professional training. Each modular exam will last no more than two hours. The modules would form part of two examination tracks: a Practical and Legal Track. The Practical Track would test the day-to-day activities of a patent attorney, e.g. drafting, amendment and opposition, "with some but not complete overlap with Papers A, B and C". The Legal Track would "test the candidates’ knowledge of the relevant legal provisions as defined in the syllabus, and their ability to apply that knowledge in solving a complex legal problem". 

The full details of the proposal can be read in the discussion paper. The epi paper will be discussed in the e:EQE Working Group and at the epi Council e-meeting on 8 May 2021. The paper is, of course, still a proposal as opposed to a final product. The paper comments that professional advice needs to be sought on some of the practical details of the new exam format, such as the use of AI to facilitate "smart" multiple choice questions (MCQ) (i.e. not merely true/false questions) and auto-marking/auto-correction of free text (see page 8). 

As the comments on this and other blogs frequently highlight, there is a strong perception by many in the profession that the patent examinations as currently formatted do not test fit for practice. This Kat can herself testify that the more professional experience she accrues, the more absurd some of the requirements of the examinations appear, either because of subject-matter specialism and/or the artificial nature of the jigsaw puzzle-like style of the EQEs. The epi discussion paper begins with an acknowledgement of the problem to be solved: "There is a strong feeling among the tutors and some qualified European patent attorneys that some Exam Papers are too remote from reality" and is welcome for this acknowledgement alone. This Kat wonders if the highly-anticipated Mercer Review of the UK patent examinations (IPKat) will make a similar acknowledgement [Merpel: Speaking of which, where is the Mercer Review?]. The fact that the EPO appears prepared to go further and address the perceived need for a better examination system should be applauded. Let's hope the PEB is taking note. 

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Katfriends Julia Gwilt and Parminder Lally for sending this IPKat's way!

EPO plans radical shake-up of EQEs 2024 onwards EPO plans radical shake-up of EQEs 2024 onwards Reviewed by Rose Hughes on Tuesday, April 13, 2021 Rating: 5

14 comments:

  1. Completely agree - time for regular assessments throughout the year that mirrors the real life work. Other professional qualifications have been doing this for decades e.g. accountancy. The PEB exams also need to modernise and step up.

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  2. The Mercer Review has been 3/4 years now. How long do they still need to publish it. We had brexit, coronavirus, online examination format during that time. It has taken so long that I now fear it will be out of date again.

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    1. The Mercer review was announced in December 2019 with a submissions deadline in February 2020. Hardly "3-4 years" as you indicate - more like 16 months. But I agree that they should hurry up and publish their recommendations. Minutes of CIPA Council meetings published in the CIPA journal indicated that publication was envisaged for "the early part" of 2021...

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  3. Yes, I would hope that the PEB take note of this, although I imagine some rubbish about the "gold-standard" will be front and centre when Mercer gets released.

    My involvement with the PEB (as a candidate) is coming to the end as I'm moving to Germany (for 65% more money). All the best to the gold standard patent attorneys.

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    1. Just curious, how easy did you find moving to a German firm? Do you speak German? #askingforafriend

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    2. If the "gold standard" is maintained, I will need to be hearing why the exams are the "gold standard".

      Previous threads on this topic bring out ardent defenders in force where they just tell us that the exams are good and test fitness to practise. They never tell us why. I need to be enlightened by the Mercer review. I also need to understand why any concerns about the current exams are simply not valid.

      We need to get away from this justification: if you are fit to practise, you will pass; if you pass, you are fit to practise.

      "the above is from someone not fit to practise" is another "defence". I hold the coveted chartered status, btw, which in any case is irrelevant to a valid criticism.

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    3. I too don't quite understand this "gold plated" standard as UK patent attorney wages are the lowest compared to other nations.

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  4. It will be interesting to see how clashes with national finals across Europe is avoided if such a modular system is introduced. This would be complicated further if, for example, the PEB also took a modular approach.

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  5. I would like to see an update for the Mercer review- surely it must be issued before the 2021 exams? The whole thing was started after the 2018 outcry- there are now candidates who have sat 3 years worth of exams waiting for this review......

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  6. Even if the Mercer review was published this year (big if) nothing will be implemented for another few years - I'm sure there will be an excuse as to why that is.

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  7. How would this work for those who are due to start taking EQE finals in 2023? It would be interesting to see if this only gives us one attempt or if there will be some overlap in the practice.

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  8. As a 2021 EQE candidate, I concur with the qualified attorneys that "some Exam Papers are too remote from reality". After preparing for the exams, I do not feel any more fit for practice. Instead, I became fit for jumping through the hoops that are the EQE main exams, and am now very skilled in puzzling together hints in the exams to find the desired solution.

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  9. Give the old boy a chance, he's still working through the prior art - the Sherr Report alone is a hefty tome. And don't forget he also has to concoct reasoning to support the required conclusion that the current system is fine as it is.

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  10. While long retired, my understanding is that certain aspects of the existing system certainly do not test fitness to practice. This was brought home to me when I did my first amendment paper for a tutorial. I took the bit in the "instructions to candidates" about offering an amendment "if necessary" literally, decided that there were good grounds for arguing for the unamended claims as they stood, and so offered no amendment. The tutor completely agreed with my analysis but pointed out that, despite the statement in the instructions, 50% of the marks were always awarded for the amendment: no amendment, no marks. The objective was to provide a response that would allow the examiner to send the case to grant, even uf this resulted in the applicant getting a narrower scope of protection than he was entitled to. So what standard of will the EPO be using to determine fitness to practice? Will they be looking for someone who will roll over and not argue with them so as to improve their case disposal rate, or one who will actually fight for his client's rights and thereby involve the examiner in additional official actions which reduce his productivity?

    I spent sone years as an examiner in the UK Patent Office before changing sides, and learnt that there was no such thing as a standard examination procedure: different types of technical subject matter required different drafting approaches: forms of claim acceptable in electronics would be objected to in mechanics. On my first JDD revision course for the old CIPA "inters" exams I observed to one of lecturers that I was there to learn how to satisfy the CIPA examiners rather than the Patent Office examiners, as from the published examiners's comments on past exams it was apparent that some of the CIPA examiners' views on appropriate practice diverged significantly from my own experience as a PO Examiner.

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