Effectiveness of EQE Training
B. Cronin (CH)
A previous article (epi Information 02/2016) showed that the EQE was effective for promoting training and outlined the importance of exam-driven training for our profession and for the European patent system. The efficiency of training can be assessed in terms of its learning outcomes, and this article uses the notion of learning outcomes to assess the effectiveness of the training. The EQE acts as an incentive for training but was set up with no pre-determined learning outcomes. However, by postulating notional learning outcomes that trainees ought to accomplish at the end of their training programme, and then verifying the accomplishment of these learning outcomes by comparing with what is achieved by successful EQE candidates, this article corroborates the effectiveness of EQE-driven training.
The previous article “Thoughts on EQE Training” (epi Information 02/2016) demonstrated that the EQE has proven itself to be an effective means for promoting professional training throughout Europe. Can we now ascertain the efficiency of this training?
The efficiency of training can be assessed in terms of its learning outcomes and I would like to use this notion
to assess the effectiveness of our exam-driven training.
In academic circles, learning outcomes are used for the purpose of course design or for designing entire learning programmes, for motivating students and for providing a means of facilitating the assessment of student performance. There are various definitions of “learning outcome” for instance:
“Statements of what a learner can be expected to know, understand and/or do as a result of a learning experience”
Learning theories require that it should be possible to measure or assess if a learning outcome has been
In a larger sense the term “learning outcomes” also applies to complete learning programmes and to actually achieved outcomes rather than those to be achieved.
In our profession, trainees follow an exam-driven learning programme that extends over several years depending on the number of sittings. It consists basically of four components that are modulated according to the trainees’ personal situation:
- exam-directed basic training
- personal work on past exam papers
- external exam preparation by courses, mock exams etc. and
- work experience coordinated with exam preparations.
By the end of a period of 6-8 years in the profession, a considerable number of trainees has followed the just-defined learning programme, sat the EQE and succeeded in all or most papers.
At the outset, we do not confront the trainees with a specified set of learning outcomes. Instead, passing the exam is set as a challenge to provide evidence of fitness to practice. Nevertheless, I believe the learning programme can be expressed in terms of learning outcomes that are actually achieved even though these outcomes were not identified at the outset but instead identified using hindsight.
From my observations, I have identified a number of learning outcomes that I think have been achieved by trainees following the overall exam-driven learning programme. Here is a list of those I identified. After going through the list, I will discuss how the learning outcomes can be verified or measured.
By the end of the 6-8 year programme, according to my observations our trainees have accomplished the following learning outcomes, namely:
- Assumed responsibility in representing clients.
- Defended successfully client’s interests.
- Provided reliable patent/legal advice in response to client’s questions.
- Performed client-set tasks according to requirements.
- Mastered the main aspects of European patent law.
- Acquired a Patent Attorney’s legal thinking.
- Developed arguments to achieve legal consequences.
- Demystified the novel/not-novel boundary.
- Mastered the problem and solution approach.
- Understood the concept of claim scope.
- Drafted claims for maximum protection and compliance.
- Amended claims for compliance with the EPC.
- Managed vast quantities of information/facts.
- Shown ability to work under pressure.
- Selectively input information by purposeful reading.
- Planned set tasks to obtain a desired outcome.
- Optimised performance of a task in a set time by good time management.
- Acquired the perception of time peculiar to the Patent Attorney profession.
Verification of the Training Programme’s Outcomes
How can we ascertain whether these learning outcomes have been achieved? For the main part, success in the EQE or a specific paper can be used as proof. Let’s consider the outcomes in turn to see what support we have for their achievement.
The first four outcomes are all related to the essence of a Patent Attorney’s job, performing tasks for clients.
Assuming responsibility in representing clients presupposes that the trainees have evolved from being students who are willing to learn to being representatives who take on clients and accept responsibility for handling the client’s patent matters. Candidates for the EQE enter into an attorney-client relationship with the Examination Board who act as a notional client that supplies tasks to be completed and judges if the tasks are performed up to standard. Success in the exam implies that the client’s tasks have been performed up to a standard of fitness to practice. By acting for the exam client the candidates have shown that they have assumed responsibility in representing clients.
Outcome 2 “defending successfully client’s interests” is a key aspect of the European Patent Attorney’s task as set out in the epi Code of Conduct. Successfully defending a client’s interests is attested by passing exam papers A, B and C where the client imposed a policy of maximum defense of its interests including full compliance with the EPC. Candidates who defend the EQE client’s interests successfully are deemed fit to represent any other client.
Outcome 3 “providing reliable patent/legal advice” is also defined in the Code of Conduct as a key aspect of our task. Providing reliable legal advice in response to clients’ questions is tested mainly in paper D Part I. Reliable legal advice means correct advice where the legal basis is identified. For most candidates, study for the legal paper represents a monumental effort that generates enough momentum for them to continue providing reliable legal advice throughout their careers. Success in paper D Part I definitely attests that this learning outcome has been achieved.
Performing client-set tasks according to given requirements is attested mainly by success in paper A – drafting so as to obtain maximum protection that meets up to official requirements – paper B salvaging the client’s proposed amendment and arguing in support of patentability – and paper C presenting all good arguments against patentability and only arguments that will succeed. Passing these papers attests that the candidate has completed the set tasks to satisfaction.
The next learning outcomes are related to legal matters, first mastery of the main aspects of European patent law, substantive and formalities. Novelty and inventive step are the main legal notions that are exhaustively tested in papers A, B and C. Priority issues are extensively tested in papers C and D. A wide spectrum of legal matters pertaining to the EPC and the PCT is tested in paper D. There is no way of succeeding in the EQE without mastering the main aspects of European patent law.
A Patent Attorney’s legal thinking takes years to develop and this form of legal thinking sets our profession apart from ordinary lawyers. Our careers are spent largely trying to achieve legal consequences wanted by clients (like obtaining a valid patent) and avoiding unwanted legal consequences (like losses of rights). It takes years for a would-be Patent Attorney to accumulate a personal database of all sorts of facts that lead to various legal consequences. There is no doubt that training for and passing the EQE greatly accelerates the development of our specific type of legal thinking.
Making arguments to achieve legal consequences is tested in paper B (arguments in support of patentability) and paper C (arguments against patentability). These papers have predetermined legal consequences so candidates have to locate and select facts that they then have to present as arguments in support of the given legal consequence. Developing convincing arguments is a key to obtaining good marks on papers B and C and is the hallmark of a proficient European Patent Attorney.
The boundary between what is novel and what is not-novel is a mystery for the uninitiated. Demystifying this boundary is one of the challenges met by our trainees. Presenting non-novel claims in papers A and B is a short cut to instant death, as is attacking a novel claim for lack of novelty or a non-novel claim for lack of inventive step in paper C. Bearing in mind that the novel/not-novel boundary can be razor edged, the difficulty of mastering it cannot be underestimated. Achieving success in these papers implies that trainees are ready to tackle this tricky issue during their careers.
Using the problem and solution approach to assess inventive step is a requirement of the EQE because the client instructs candidates to follow the Guidelines which of course include the problem-solution approach (GL-G VII.5). Candidates use the problem-solution approach informally in paper A (explaining the problem solved), in paper B to support patentability and in paper C against patentability. Trainees are also confronted with the problem-solution approach in their dealings with the EPO. This outcome is surely achieved.
For the man in the street the concept of claim scope is difficult to understand, which is one good reason for consulting a Patent Attorney. Understanding claim scope begins nowadays with claim analysis in the pre-exam, followed by paper A (drafting claims to obtain a desired scope), paper B (limiting claims to a scope in compliance with the EPC) and paper C (attacking claims of undue scope). By considering claim scope from all angles over several years, our candidates come to a firm understanding of this concept.
By preparing for and passing paper A, trainees have drafted claims for maximum protection and compliance with EPC requirements as stipulated by the client.
Amending claims for compliance with the EPC was the task of paper B up to 2012. From 2013 this continues to be tested in a more limited way, mainly for compliance with Article 123(2). Amending claims to salvage patentability inevitably means restricting the claim scope and doing this without inadmissibly extending the subject matter presents a particular challenge. This aspect has been tested by paper B.
Patent Attorneys must manage vast quantities of information/facts. This is tested by preparing for and sitting
the EQE. In their exam preparations, candidates are overloaded with numerous legal sources and commentaries that
they have to manage, starting with the EPC itself, the Guidelines, the PCT, and so on. The list is long.
Additionally, the individual papers all contain abundant facts that have to be managed during practice and
during the exam. Dealing with enormous quantities of information/facts is part of exam preparation and is
attested by success in the exam.
The ability to work under pressure is of course an important attribute for a European Patent Attorney and candidates have demonstrated this ability by succeeding in the different papers of the exam.
The pressure of the EQE is of two sorts, first the pressure generated by the accumulation of exam preparation work, especially where candidates begin late and over-work in the months before the exam. Other candidates reduce this pressure by spreading out their exam preparations and deferring the sitting of different papers. In both cases, the successful candidates showed they could manage this type of pressure.
The second type of pressure is that for completing the task of the various papers in the allotted time. The doability of the exam is tested by guinea pigs who establish that each paper can be done in the set time by a well-trained, brilliant, qualified individual. For the majority of candidates, completing the papers in time represents a major challenge that depends largely on their degree of preparation. Working under time pressure tends to push candidates into an error mode and errors tend to compound leading to poor quality answers and low scores. Successfully finishing these exams attests an ability to work under pressure without making too many errors.
The next outcome concerns inputting information by reading. Reading is something we learn at school and take for granted. In the EQE, candidates are faced with an abundance of information, a fraction of which is useful for the task at hand. This helps to develop a Patent Attorney’s way of reading which is to read given documents so as to select information according to the purpose of the given task. For example, in the opposition paper the candidate will read the patent to be opposed solely looking for ammunition for future attacks. In this way, training for the EQE develops a Patent Attorney’s ability to select information by purposeful reading.
Planning tasks to obtain a desired outcome is inherent in the EQE. To complete every part of the exam in the allotted time, candidates must follow the working method: read – plan – write. The planning phase is specific to each part of the EQE and has to be specially prepared. In their preparations, candidates do a lot of pre-planning which reduces the amount of residual planning to complete the specific task on the day of the exam. One way or another, candidates are forced to adopt a planning strategy for each EQE paper. The planning compacts an unstructured factual input into a structured legal output in a short time and departs from everyday practices where work can be spread over several days or weeks. Success in the exam attests success of the plan.
The next outcome is optimising the performance of a task in a set time by good time management. This implies not just finishing in time, but making full use of the available time to perform the task. This can be accomplished by practice on earlier papers to get to the expected level of answering, followed by accelerating the pace to finish in time, always correcting so the answer becomes more and more reliable. Good time management for the EQE flows from good preparations.
The last listed outcome is acquiring the perception of time that is peculiar to our profession. Practicing our job induces us to adopt a forward-looking attitude that is developed by exam preparations. By doing many time-related Part I questions our trainees are conditioned to become aware of time limits and the associated consequences. The situations usually start in the past but inevitably project into the future. The Part II legal opinion gives trainees a golden opportunity to foretell future events as a basis for advising the client to plan ahead. Just like fortune tellers who use a crystal ball, we make use of time diagrams for peering into the future, to the amazement of our respective clients. Extended practice on the time-related aspects of the exam greatly accelerates acquiring a Patent Attorney’s perception of time.
It follows that all of the postulated learning outcomes are achieved. These outcomes can be regarded as
components of fitness to practice in core activities. Thus, we can consider that the training programme’s
learning outcomes express different aspects that make up the multi-facetted concept of fitness to practice. In
any event, candidates who have followed the training programme and passed the EQE are well equipped to perform
as European Patent Attorneys.
Note that it is the training that produces the results, not the exam itself which can be a bad experience for those who tackle it unprepared.
In summary, my belief that exam-driven training is effective is corroborated by the examination we have made of the accomplishment of the given learning outcomes.
As we have seen, all of the postulated learning outcomes are accomplished, which means that the trainees have reached a high level of competence. Over 10,000 candidates have passed the exam to date which corresponds to an overall 80% pass rate. These candidates were all brought to “fit to practice” level by exam-driven training. This represents a tremendous collective achievement of our profession. In my opinion we could not have accomplished this result by any other type of training.
Ein vorangegangener Artikel hat aufgezeigt, dass die EEP (europäische Eignungsprüfung) bei der Förderung der Ausbildung wirksam war und hat die Bedeutung der prüfungsorientierten Ausbildung für unser Berufsbild und für das Europäische Patentsystem hervorgehoben. Die Effizienz der Ausbildung kann hinsichtlich der Lernergebnisse gewertet werden und dieser Artikel nutzt die Ideen der Lernergebnisse, um die Wirksamkeit der Ausbildung zu bemessen. Die EEP schafft somit einen Anreiz für die Ausbildung, wurde aber ohne vorher festgelegte Lernziele erstellt.
Wie auch immer, beim Festlegen fiktiver Lernergebnisse, die Auszubildende am Ende ihrer Ausbildung erreichen sollten und der Überprüfung der Erfüllung der Lernziele durch einen Vergleich der Resultate bei einem erfolgreichen Abschluss eines EEP Kandidaten, belegt dieser Artikel die Effizienz einer prüfungsorientierten Ausbildung zur EEP.
Un article précédent a montré que l'EEQ était efficace pour la promotion de la formation et a souligné l'importance que ces formations dérivées de l’examen ont eu pour notre profession et pour le système de brevet européen. L'efficacité de la formation peut être évaluée en termes de « résultats d'apprentissage », et cet article utilise cette notion de résultats d'apprentissage pour évaluer le rendement de la formation. Le EEQ agit comme une incitation à la formation, mais a été mis en place sans définir des résultats d'apprentissage prédéterminés. Par contre, en supposant les résultats d’apprentissage théoriques que les stagiaires devraient accomplir à la fin de leur formation, puis en vérifiant la réalisation de ces résultats d'apprentissage en comparant avec ce que les candidats ayant réussi EEQ ont accompli, cet article corrobore le rendement de la formation dérivée de l’EEQ.
- The Credit Common Accord for Wales, QCA/LSC, 2004, p. 12