The discussion paper is, as its name suggests, for discussion. We note that this paper is part of a process of moving from an examination format suitable for an in person written examination to an examination format suitable for an online exam. We do not believe that the EPI will have full control over the timing or the outcome of this process because e.g. any new format will have to be agreed with the EPO. In addition, there are many opinions on any new format of the e:EQE should look like – it is therefore inevitable that not all practitioners will be happy with the outcome of this process.
Nevertheless, we believe there is broad agreement in Ireland on what a new format of the EQEs should achieve.
By way of background, the Association of Patent and Trade Mark Attorneys (APTMA) is the professional body representing Patent and Trade Mark Attorneys, including Design Registration Attorneys, in Ireland. We strive to improve and elevate the technical and general knowledge of persons in those professions and to promote just and honourable practice in the conduct of business and to suppress malpractice. We take great pride in the quality of service provided by our members.
To mitigate against malpractice, it is essential that Irish Patent Attorneys maintain their high standards and are, at a minimum, fit to practice. One of the routes to qualification as an Irish Patent Attorney is, amongst other requirements, though passing papers A and B of the EQEs. As such, it is our view that any change to the EQEs should not reduce the standards that are needed to pass these exams. We also have a duty to our clients and we fear lowering these standards may diminish the exemplary service provided by Irish Patent Attorneys. We note that lowering these standards to reduce costs to applicants may be a false economy because of the risk of increased insurance costs arising from a potential decreased competence of Patent Attorneys. Thus, we are pleased to see a strong emphasis on the “fit to practice” criterion in the discussion paper. We hope that this strong emphasis is maintained throughout the process of moving to a new e:EQE.
We also believe that any changes to the EQE should be cognisant of national practice – i.e. the route to qualification as an Irish Patent Attorney though passing papers A and B of the EQEs should not be closed off through as a result of changes to the EQE. Further, any changes should also be cognisant of part qualified candidates – i.e. candidates who have proved their ability in one field (e.g. drafting) tested under the present EQE should not have to demonstrate this again due to a change in the EQE.
In addition, the format of the e:EQE should be suitable for online examination. While we are grateful for all the hard work the enabled the EQE to be held this year, we note that it was an online exam with a format substantively for an in person written exam. We recognise that this is not a sustainable situation. Thus, in principle, we are in favour of moving towards a modular system and in favour of taking advantage any improvements in testing that can be achieved through use of such a modular system. However, this is conditional on standards being maintained.
To summarise it is the view of APTMA that:
· Any change to the EQEs should not reduce the standards that practitioners need to reach to pass these exams;
· Any changes to the EQE should also be cognisant of national practice and part qualified candidates;
· The format of the EQE should align with method of testing – an online modular format should be used for online examinations, but not at the expense of lowering standards.
We trust that these aims are not controversial and believe that those acting on behalf of the EPI in this matter should be given sufficient flexibility on the exact format of the e:EQE to best achieve these aims when in discussion with other partners in this process such as the EPO.