Prerequisites to sit the future e-EQE: perspective from the epi Diversity and Inclusion Working Group The members of the Working Group are S. Bannan (GB), E. Cogniat (CH), N. Ferara (DE), J. Gray (GB), N. Marusic (CH), C. Nargolwalla (FR), M. Nevant (FR), J. Sahlin (FI), F. Sardharwala (GB), O. Sirakova (BG)
The Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Working Group of epi has become aware that there is a proposal to change the conditions for registration as a candidate to sit the European Qualifying Examination. More specifically, there has been a proposal to “raise the bar” on the scientific/technical qualifications required for enrolment in the EQE.
Our working group has fundamental and practical objections to this particular change: it would immediately restrict the pool of potential recruits, and undermine the good standing of many existing epi members and candidates. We have not heard any evidence-based justification for such a change, and furthermore we consider the proposal incompatible with the Policy on Diversity and Inclusion adopted by the epi Council during its 92nd meeting on 7th May 2022See https://patentepi.org/en/diversity-and-inclusion/di-policy.html.
For the avoidance of doubt, our working group in no way advocates lowering the bar below its current and long-established level. Our working group further agrees that other amendments in the IPREE are necessary, and is already in collaboration with the relevant persons in epi.
The status quo
The current qualification requirements for registering as a candidate are set out in Article 11 of the RegulationRegulation on the European qualifying examination for professional representatives, last amended in 2009. on the EQE (REE) and Rules 11-14 of the Implementing Regulations (IPREE). The Regulation states that “a university-level scientific or technical qualification” or equivalent knowledge is required to enrol for the EQE.
In the IPREE, this “university-level qualification” is specified as at least a three-year degree. This corresponds to what the EHEAEuropean Higher Education Area (https://www.ehea.info) Bologna Process calls the “First cycle” of qualifications, usually awarding a Bachelor’s degree. To take account of those courses that include some non-technical modules (e.g. a language or business studies), this minimum three-year course must include at least 80% scientific and/or technical subjects.
(No effectiveThe only alternative currently provided is at least ten years of experience working under the supervision of a European Patent Attorney or as an in-house patent engineer. This requirement appears outdated as it fails to acknowledge any relevant real-world experience the candidate may possess in the fields of science and technology. route to show equivalent knowledge has ever been provided, which we believe needs to be addressed in the next version of the IPREE.)
The proposal to raise the bar
The proposal to raise the bar is that the minimum level of university course should be a four-year course, or what the Bologna Process would call a “Second cycle” qualification, for example a Master’s degree.
Any proposal to increase the scientific/technical qualification requirements for entry into the profession should provide evidence that the current “bar” is not high enough. The reputation and quality of European Patent Attorneys is well known throughout the IP world. Introducing such a modification would unnecessarily cast doubt on the credibility and standing of numerous established professionals in the field. Surely, this cannot be the intended outcome.
Additionally, “raising the bar” would lead to a smaller pool of candidates for trainees, and actually make it harder to hire the best candidates because the pool would no longer include very able candidates who did not take a four-year degree course. This change could also have negative consequences for the current members of the profession seeking new trainees; it simply must not be implemented without comprehensive research and surveys.
We believe that the key purpose of the EQE is to test those special patent attorney skills, that the client cannot be expected to judge. On the other hand, whether their attorney does or does not understand the technical aspects of an invention is something the client can actually judge for themselves. Clients don’t tend to be concerned about how many degrees or other qualifications their patent attorney has; the client will judge whether the attorney can listen and communicate ideas clearly, and whether they can match their advice and drafting to the client’s commercial goals.
In any case, the employer is primarily responsible and best placed to decide what technical qualifications and other personal attributesE.g. workshop/lab experience, foreign language skills, interpersonal skills and the like are pretty much independent of degree level. their trainees need, in order to become the EPAs of the future. Finding candidates with the right mix of skills to excel in the profession is not a simple task and it does not make sense to make it even harder. Of course, in addition to the minimum qualification threshold set by the REE/IPREE, the employer is at liberty to recruit a candidate who has the most appropriate educational and technical background, and any necessary additional skills, to serve the needs of their particular clients.
Finally, we believe that the proposal to increase the minimum length of the degree for entry into the profession is incompatible with the epi’s Policy on diversity and inclusion adopted by the CouncilSee https://patentepi.org/en/diversity-and-inclusion/di-policy.html. The policy states:
epi believes that capturing and drawing on diverse points of view can improve the advice and services that its members can offer to clients and prospective clients, who are focused on innovation (which itself requires divergent thinking and novel perspectives).
Raising the bar on the qualification required to enter the profession is likely to result in the exclusion of prospective candidates who could provide particularly divergent thinking and novel perspectives. As an example, such candidates may come from underprivileged backgrounds and/or they might be facing financial constraints that prevent them from pursuing extended educational paths to enter the profession. Furthermore, candidates with varied family circumstances (like childcare responsibilities, caretaker duties, sole providers for their family unit) might find it challenging to commit to longer degree programs. Also, members of diverse communities may have encountered various forms of discrimination during their educational journeys, which could have limited their access to advanced degrees.
The policy further states:
epi will therefore treat its members, their clients and other stakeholders fairly and equitably, with respect, honesty and dignity, and will communicate in a manner that promotes these values, free from discrimination, prejudice and harassment.
Raising the bar for entry into the profession based on a length of a degree is not equitable and discriminates against certain very able prospective members of the profession. Furthermore, as mentioned above, existing European Patent Attorneys who would not meet the new requirements would effectively be reduced to “second-rate” members, which would be discriminatory and undignified treatment of those existing members.
The policy further states:
epi understands that, to achieve diversity, inclusiveness must be fostered; and that increased inclusivity can itself lead to greater diversity.
The proposed increase in entry qualification level would inevitably lead to decreased diversity among the profession and therefore directly contradicts the above commitment.
For the above reasons, the members of epi’s D&I working group strongly recommend that this proposal to raise the level of scientific/technical qualifications be abandoned. It is discriminatory, divisive, and, most of all, it does not address any real issue of quality or public interest. We are all aware that our degrees are only one of the factors determining success in our profession, and arguably not the most important one. The real “judgment” on the quality of a prospective new member of the profession comes from their employer, as well as from their clients. Let those stakeholders make a judgment then, and do not limit their choice by this ill-advised proposal. The EQE itself presents a much more equitable test of the candidates’ skill skills in patent work than an arbitrary length of a prior degree could ever achieve.
Let’s work on making our profession more welcoming and inclusive, and fit for the future. The quality of its members and of our work will only be enhanced by encouraging a diverse intake of recruits, while of course maintaining our current standards of excellence.
The opinions expressed in this article are the unanimous opinion of the members:
S. Bannan (GB), E. Cogniat (CH), N. Ferara (DE), J. Gray (GB), N. Marusic (CH), C. Nargolwalla (FR), M. Nevant (FR), J. Sahlin (FI), F. Sardharwala (GB), O. Sirakova (BG)
For more information, see: https://patentepi.org/en/diversity-and-inclusion/diversity-and-inclusion-epi.html