Jeremy was very quick of the mark yesterday with the announcement of IPReg's consultation on patent agent qualification with his post below. Equally quick was a letter from CIPA condemning the proposals as "tinkering", deploring the "one size fits all" of compulsory taught foundation courses ; and rebelling against the loss of "sovereign" UK qualifications.
Most Solo practitioners don't take trainees. The idea of sponsoring a trainee through an academic training course is unlikely to get much traction amongst us. Even so working for us for a short time might help someone towards the knowledge and skills they need to qualify. However most of us have qualified so what do we want out of the qualification process. Moreover what do the punters need to be assured that we are competent at.
At present most trainees come from Russell Group Universities and are disappointed research students who need to earn a living. This is simply not the right set of competencies for advising entrepreneurs. Serendipity ensures that some entrants have an interest in entrepreneurship and have picked up some commercial awareness during their university careers. We also need to attract good wordsmiths and good research lawyers. In my opinion we should be opening up routes into the profession not closing them down.
When I worked in law firms I wanted solicitors to train as patent agents. They had technical degrees but the route seemed onerous and most were unwilling to embark on it and those that did fell away.
A common examination that can be taken by all is the most fair way of establishing qualification. Independent self-examined courses even if accredited by the QAA won't set a consistent standard and IPREG does not have the resource to harmonise them. Therefore I think I favour the idea of exams that everyone takes and you choose the best method to prepare. This may well be a higher education course or self-directed learning. Let the candidate decide. Exemption was the cause of making the present exams inefficient. Presumably academic institutions like high pass rates. Are any published? Professor Scher recommended that academics set the exams because they were professionals at doing that. I agree. The idea of patent agents setting exam questions was always rather amateurish. What do the illustrious professors of Queen Mary, Bournemouth and
IPreg suggest that an examination system "does not act to provide confirmation that a student has understood a broader taught syllabus to satisfactory level". Surely that is exactly the point of a well constructed exam. It allows the candidate to demonstrate their knowledge.
Contrary to the CIPA view, I am not against relying on EPO exams. The EPO have an excellent European Patent Academy. As we move towards the UPC there is a need to increase co-operation. IPReg should be looking to the IPO to support patent agent training too. This needs to be a co-operative affair that brings and keeps us all up to scratch. The knowledge we need is continually evolving. It is important that we make many resources available and that teaching is aimed at achieving learning objectives rather than acquiring CPD points or a good lunch.
The solicitors are also reviewing training requirements. In their case its abolishing the training contract and therefore presumably relying solely on taught skills. Those taught skills courses produce a vast oversupply of candidates as Joshua Rozenberg demonstrated on his recent BBC Law In Action
Is there an appetite for a meeting to discuss a solo response?