COVID-19 and the Trainee Patent Attorney

There is no doubt that the COVID-19 global pandemic has had an impact on lives of almost everyone living on this planet. Not to be forgotten in all this is the lowly trainee patent attorney.

On 5 March 2020 the Supervisory Board of the European qualifying examination (EQE) decided, in line with the European Patent Office’s (EPO) precautionary measures, to cancel the EQE which was planned to take place from 16-19 March 2020.

On 30 July 2020 the Intellectual Property Office of Ireland (IPOI) announced that they were postponing the law and practice of patents examination, which had been set for 9 September 2020, until later in the year. More information will be provided in early October, but candidates have been advised not to make travel arrangements before then. Given the current COVID-19 situation in Ireland, it looks unlikely that the examination will take place this year.

With regard to the UK, the Patent Examination Board (PEB) announced on 17 July 2020 that the October 2020 qualifying examinations would go ahead, but would be held online instead of at examination venues. It appears that candidates will have the choice of sitting the exams at home or at work. However, if they wish to sit their exams at work, candidates will need to submit an application for a change of examination venue. The deadline for such applications is 31 August 2020. The PEB provides a long list of requirements that will need to be satisfied for the PEB to accept a change of exam venue, including the details of a senior member of staff who will supervise the printing of the exam paper.

The PEB’s preparations are clearly still a work-in-progress. The Information for Candidates document for the 2020 PEB Qualifying Examinations has been updated a number of times. The latest version was released on 25 August 2020 in line with the latest version of the 2020 PEB Examination FAQs, which was updated on 21 August 2020. This information can be found on the PEB website here.

On 23 July 2020 the Supervisory Board announced that the European qualifying examination for 2021 will be conducted online. A working group composed of EPO and Institute of Professional Representatives before the European Patent Office (epi) representatives has been set up to work out the arrangements for next year’s EQE. This attorney is reminded of the EPO’s long standing reluctance to allow candidates to use computers to type their answers. The first pilot program allowing a small group of candidates to write on a computer was introduced only last year. It appears the use of computers to type answers is going to be the least of the Supervisory Board’s concerns for the 2021 examination.

The EPO and epi will undoubtedly be watching closely the progress of the PEB’s preparations for the UK patent exams.

Consideration must also be given to the training period of EQE candidates during the COVID-19 crisis. At the date of the EQE examination, candidates must have trained for three years (two years for the pre-examination) under the supervision of a professional representative or as an employee dealing with patent matters in an industrial company established in one of the contracting states. However, due to the situation with COVID-19, some trainees may be “furloughing”, “chômage technique” or “Kurzarbeit” for a portion of the training period. For the purposes of the EQE certificate of training, it is not entirely clear if any such period should be deducted from a period of training or employment.

In the view of the epi, a period of complete unemployment would not count towards this training period and would thus be deducted. Reduced employment would count proportionally as part-time employment. In any case, the epi recommends that the Examination Secretariat should be informed of such a reduction. More information can be found here.

Clearly trainee patent attorneys are facing trying times and a lot of uncertainly. FRKelly wishes all trainees well in any upcoming examinations. This attorney, for one, is relieved that his examination days are behind him.

John O’Flaherty