The patent attorney profession is a graduate profession. As a graduate trainee, you complete a minimum specified period of training in a firm, and during that time take professional qualifications. Once both the training and qualifications are successfully completed you may apply to become a registered patent attorney. The UK register is held by the UK Intellectual Property Regulation Board (IPReg); the European register is held by the European Patent Office (EPO).
Most firms require their trainees to qualify to be registered in both the UK and Europe, since in order to represent clients before the EPO you will need to qualify as a European patent attorney. It is usual for a person entering the profession to take four or five years to qualify as both a European patent attorney and UK patent attorney.
The UK regulations require you to be the holder of a degree in order to be considered as a registered patent attorney. In order to take the European qualifying examination (EQE) to qualify as a European patent attorney you must hold a science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) degree. In reality, potential employers tend to need you to have a degree in a STEM subject.
There are two sets of qualifications to be undertaken; these qualifications and the time they will take to attain can be seen in this diagram.
This qualification route is divided into Foundation and Final levels. Your employer will most likely have a preferred route that they will support you in undertaking.
You may qualify for the Foundation level by either undertaking the five Patent Examination Board (PEB) Foundation Examinations or by undertaking one of several IPReg-approved courses. These IPReg-approved courses are listed in the IPReg Rules for the Examination and Admission of Individuals to the Registers of Patent and Trade Mark Attorneys, which can be found at: www.ipreg.org.uk
There are four Final Examinations: FD1, FD2, FD3 and FD4. The footnote on page 42 explains the relationship of the EQE examinations to the Final Examinations. The four Final Examinations test knowledge of relevant intellectual property laws, the ability to draft and amend patent applications, and the ability to assess the validity of a patent and the infringement risks it presents.
Full details can be found on the EQE website at www.epo.org/learning-events
This examination can be taken two years after the beginning of your period of training under the supervision of a European patent attorney.
The four ‘main’ examination papers (A, B, C and D) can be taken after successfully completing the pre-examination and after three years’ experience under the supervision of a European patent attorney. These papers cover the EPO’s laws and procedures, the drafting and amendment of European patent applications, and the preparation of a formal opposition to a European patent.
Support for studying
Most employing firms offer a formal or an informal training programme that both helps you develop the skills you need to work as a patent attorney and supports you in developing the knowledge and skills required to successfully complete the UK and European professional qualifications.
The Informals provide a range of support for the trainee. You can read more about this here.
Study guides and publications
CIPA publishes a number of books to help students with training and examinations. These include general training manuals as well as specific guides for most of the Final Examinations. Full details are on the CIPA website.
The EPO offers a range of online materials to help you prepare for the examinations. Further details can be found on the EQE website.
Private training providers
There are a number of private training providers that provide examination revision courses for both the UK and European examinations. The largest being JDD Consultants.
Continuing professional development
As the career of a patent attorney progresses, there are additional ways to develop further, such as the development of specific areas of expertise appropriate to the practice, the maintenance of a current knowledge base in the face of changing law and the adoption of other skills.
IPReg and CIPA have a vital part to play in this continuing education process. The Institute arranges a large number of seminars and webinars across the year and throughout the country. These seminars address many topics, from recent law and practice changes in the UK to a detailed examination of specialist subjects and an overview of law and practice in other territories
Such seminars also cover subjects relevant to the business side of the practice of many UK patent attorneys, aiming to provide knowledge and guidance in dealing with some of the issues that are likely to arise in the running of a practice.
CIPA also provides information to its members by way of updates, both on its website and in the CIPA Journal, published monthly. This information enables members to keep up to date with developments in the UK and across the world.