The Informals is the student body of the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys (CIPA). All patent trainees automatically become members of the Informals on joining CIPA, and are encouraged to take advantage of the various activities and events organised by the Informals Committee.
The Informals Committee is made up of a number of patent trainee volunteers from across the UK, who give up a little of their free time to help ensure the smooth running of the Informals for current and future trainees.
The Informals provides a support network for trainee patent attorneys at all levels, from their first days in the patent profession up to the day they fully qualify. The Informals Committee provides this support by: organising lectures and tutorials to supplement the educational training provided by employers; organising social events; acting as the collective voice of trainees within the profession; and giving assistance and advice to new and prospective members.
Education starts from day one and continues throughout the working life of a patent attorney. Most trainees aim to become dual-qualified – in the UK (as a Chartered Patent Attorney) and in Europe (as a European Patent Attorney). Firstly, trainees must understand and learn about patent law in preparation for the UK Foundation Examinations (or one of the equivalent university-based courses) and the European Pre-Examination. Secondly, they must learn how to apply both the law and the practical skills that they have learnt during their employment, such as drafting and prosecuting patent applications and opposing European patents, in readiness for the UK Final Examinations and the European Qualifying Examination (EQE).
All employers provide some level of training, but patent trainees cannot expect to encounter every obscure situation in their day-to-day work. To help fill these gaps, the Informals Committee organises lectures to help guide trainees through the maze of e.g. the UK Patents Act, the Patent Cooperation Treaty, the European Patent Convention and the case law. All of the Informals’ lectures are broadcast as webinars and are recorded. This means that trainees who are not based in London, or who cannot attend lectures when they happen, are still able to benefit from the lectures.
With the assistance of other CIPA members, the Informals Committee also arranges tutorials which are usually focused on the UK Final Examinations and the EQE. Both recently qualified patent attorneys and patent attorneys of longer standing tutor small groups of trainees who are attempting past papers. In recent years, the Informals Committee has also organised mentoring for trainees who have struggled on previous attempts to pass the UK Final Examinations. This involves one-to-one coaching and review of past papers to hone examination technique.
The Informals provides a support network for trainee patent attorneys at all levels, from their first days in the patent profession up to the day they fully qualify.
The educational offerings provided by the Informals are the subject of ongoing review and update – the Committee often conducts surveys and requests feedback from trainees. As a result, the education system that you encounter as a future trainee patent attorney may differ slightly from that described above.
These are an important part of the Informals’ activities and allow trainees of all levels to meet, get to know each other and share experiences in a collaborative manner. The social events are organised by regional secretaries which operate across the UK. Typical events include a welcome party in the autumn for new trainees, drinks in the local pub, curry nights, bowling, pub quizzes, Christmas parties, post-exam parties, punting and BBQs in the summer. Additionally, there is usually a sports representative on the Informals Committee who organises an annual 5-a-side football tournament in London in the summer.
The voice of the trainees
The Informals Committee aims to act as the collective voice of the trainees within the profession. The Informals Honorary Secretary attends CIPA Council meetings in order to present the views and concerns of the younger members of the profession to CIPA.
Keeping informed about the Informals
All trainees are encouraged to subscribe to The Yellow Sheet blog (yellowsheet.wordpress.com). The blog is frequently updated with information on upcoming lectures and social events, exam enrolment deadlines, and updates to the education and qualification process that may affect trainees. In addition, each month the Informals and CIPA publish The Yellow Sheet newsletter, which is distributed to all trainees with the monthly CIPA Journal. The paper newsletter contains updates about Informals events as well as the light-hearted ‘wacky patent’ feature.
If you decide to become a patent attorney, the Informals Committee looks forward to welcoming you, and hopes to see you at our educational and social events. You might also consider joining the Informals Committee when you join the profession – who knows, you may be writing this article in the future!