By way of introduction, I coordinate the training acitivities for the Siemens IP department. The EQE is a major concern of mine as Siemens generally considers the EQE to be the first step in the career of an inhouse counsel whereas the national qualification usually constitutes a second step. I understand that other companies in DE follow a similar approach. I was an EQE tutor for several years and I provide an inhouse EPC training to our new hires. I am an examiner in the DE national exams and, last but not least, a member of the Board of the Chamber of German Patent Attorneys (PAK).
I strongly support the Motion by the German Delegation and would like to submit that the Board of the PAK is very interested in actively participating in the proposed online conference. The EQE is an essential part of the professional life of most PAK members, and the majority of PAK members are also European Patent Attorneys. We collectively look back on many years of experience as tutors, candidate supervisors, and examiners in both the EQE and the DE national exam, an experience we can offer to bring to the table.
A few comments on the discussion paper:
- I completely agree that the EQE needs to be modernized and realinged with its goal of testing the "fitness to practice" of the candidates. I feel that candidates spend too much time with studying exam methodology and tactics which would better be invested in subject matter studies.
- Generally I would like to cast a vote for uncertainty: EQE needs to test the candidate's understanding of the law and ability to argue the case at hand, using papers that are based on (near) real-life problems with real life's uncertainties and that are not black-and-white, that require the candidate to make assumptions, and that allow the candidate to pass if the ability to argue the client's case within the boundaries of the law was demonstrated. Also, not every EQE needs to have four papers A-D, maybe it is sufficient to have an A-style paper in one year but not B-style paper. But candidates must come to the exam being prepared for both. In other words: Make the exam less predictable and thus remove some of the comfortable certainty the candidates achieve with the methodology courses. In marking, "fit to practice" should govern the decision whether a candidate can pass, not "did the candidate apply the problem-solution-approach as envisaged by the examination committee".
- I disagree with the proposal insofar it states that papers should have a maximum duration of 2 hours. I believe that it will not be possible to set up 2-hour papers which have the complexities of near real-life problems. The duration of any paper should at least be 3 hours, preferably 4 hours. I understand the practical concerns such as toilet breaks and the danger of unwanted information exchange between the candidate and other persons but I believe that reasonably complex problems cannot be discussed during short breaks (similar to large exam centers of the past where multiple candidates were allowed to go to the toilet at the same time).
- I have serious doubts whether multiple choice questions, be they (AI-assisted) smart or not smart, can truly test the "fitness to practice". Multiple choice can, at best, test knowledge and analytical skills but it simply cannot test the reproductive skills of a candidate, i.e. the very skills that are essential for providing a comprehensive response to a client based on the legal analysis. D1 is in my eyes about the only paper where MCQ could make sense.
- On a more general note, it should not be the EQE's purpose to rectify deficiencies in the candidates' training nor to provide a training syllabus. Tutors and candidates must understand that the 3-year period inscribed in Art. 11 REE is not meant as a period during which the candidate is a cheap laborer and incidentally uses previous EQE papers and (if he/she can shell out the money). Training must be taken seriously in that candidates must be exposed to the clients' problems and must constantly be challenged to find solutions. In this regard it does appear quite strange that EPO examiners who have never been exposed to a single client are allowed to sit the exam and are, upon passing it, considered "fit to practice".
- In line with the previous comment it could be made the EPO Academy's task to install a course that runs in parallel with the 3 year period and provides tests which a candidate needs to pass in order to sit the EQE. Those could be multiple choice, and the course can beoffered online at low cost, without the need to travel.
- Finally, I believe the EQE should be made easier to pass for those who are well prepared and at the same time the number of resits should be limited. Unlimited attempts pose a huge burden on the examination system, the employers, and the candidates themselves. Limiting the number of attempts would act as an incentive to prepare better and take the exam not before one is truly ready.