Friday, 25 February 2011

EQEs: Some Tips & Tricks

Next week is crunch time for candidates wishing to become qualified European patent attorneys.  The European qualifying examinations (EQEs) will be held in various places across Europe between Tuesday and Thursday.  These will test important aspects of the job of being a patent attorney, including the ability to concentrate for long periods of time without falling asleep and, more importantly, clairvoyance.

In a previous one of my lives, I was mildly castigated for suggesting that there was really only one answer to look for, and that was the one that the examiner was after.  I would however stand by that view, and I think it applies to all of the papers, not just those that more obviously require specific answers.  The EQEs are, as most would admit, an entirely artificial (though not entirely unreasonable) way of assessing a candidate's ability to be a patent attorney, and different rules apply to those that normally apply in everyday life.

In relation to papers A (drafting) and B (amendment), the examiner always has a particular answer in mind when setting the paper (read the examiner's comments from previous years if you don't believe me).  Deviation from the ideal means points are lost.  A claim that lacks novelty, which no viable candidate would put forward, will lose so many points (typically 30 out of 50 for the E/M version of the paper) that there will be no hope of gaining enough back to pass.  That much is fair enough.  No patent attorney should be submitting claims that lack novelty over what is right in front of them.

Beyond that though, the issues become less clear cut. How narrow should the claims be to make sure that you ensure validity while still getting what the 'client' wants?  If you don't go far enough many points are lost, but if you go too far the cumulative cuts can become pretty bad as the claim becomes narrower and less useful.  Should you come up with a clever form of words that you have thought up yourself and which results in a nicely elegant and refined claim, even if this might take a bit of understanding? Should you even worry about sufficiency in the scope of your claims (I suspect the answer is probably no)?

My suggestion, based on the hypothesis that there is only one true answer, is that you should take what is given as read and not under any circumstances go beyond what is there in front of you.  If your answer starts to look complicated, it is probably wrong (and I know this from experience).  If you look again at your claim 1 and find that it can be read on to any one of the prior art embodiments in front of you, you will fail unless you correct it.  If you are finding yourself using words that are not in the papers you have been given, ask yourself why this is and think again (if you have time!).  Remember that many candidates have none of the official languages as a first language, so all the words you need are already, quite deliberately, there.  To paraphrase Eric Morcambe, the examiner is playing all the right notes, just not necessarily in the right order.  It is therefore your job to put them in the right order.

The following two clips are provided as a light-hearted attempt to illustrate my points in accordance with a novel and non-obvious, though probably insufficient, method.

For some more practical tips on what to take into the exams, an old post from the IPKat should still prove useful. The IPKat has also provided some guidance on what not to take in.

Now relax, and the best of luck!


  1. No patent attorney should be submitting claims that lack novelty over what is right in front of them.

    This is one I'd like to read in an office action, just like that quivering mass of obviousness.

    I'm still licking my wounds from the dismal failure experienced at my first attempt at paper C. As a patent examiner I found it deceptively easy, and as I handed in that wad of ink-smudged paper I really thought that I had that patent licked. I was the one who got properly licked. The solace received from colleagues was that one must not merely write a serviceable answer (somewhat like the objections I would have formulated in a communication), but indeed seek to write THE answer the committee is expecting. One should probably approach this paper in a very mechanical fashion.

    I should certainly do better next time. Touch wood.

  2. Having sat the EQEs many years ago, my key memory with regard to the drafting/amendment papers A/B is that you should *not* use your imagination - do not try to be creative, and don't try to be a smartarse.

    In fact, the safest thing to do is to take a somewhat conservative approach to things - you have been given the vocabulary to use, the client's instructions/wishes, and the art/issues your claims need to overcome. Keep things simple and straightforward in your answer and that should make things manageable.

    As per Tufty's article, the exams are set so that they can be passed by people who do not have EN/DE/FR as their first language and so linguistic gymnastics are not required in a successful answer. Ditto, if you think that some kind of specialist technical knowledge is required for the answer then you're heading the wrong way - the question paper provides all the required information.

    Disclaimer - I'm not an examiner, and this is just my opinion based on sitting EQEs many years ago.