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This article aims to give a brief overview of the main Intellectual Property Law Courses relevant to trainee and newly-qualified patent attorneys, or those considering the profession.

A key element of training as a patent attorney involves learning on the job under the supervision of a qualified attorney. However, the IP courses discussed below can assist in developing your skills as an attorney and progressing towards qualification. There are a wide range of courses offered by various providers, the courses discussed below are those most commonly taken by UK based attorneys but this is by no means an exhaustive list!

Exemptions from Examinations

The examinations for qualifying as a UK patent attorney are split into the Foundation Certificate Exams and the Final Diploma Exams. Queen Mary University of London, Bournemouth University and Brunel all run courses leading to a Postgraduate Certificate in Intellectual Property which exempts a trainee from the Foundation Certificate Exams. The format of these courses varies between the institutions; the Queen Mary course is a three month full time course during which time you attend lectures Monday to Friday in London, the Brunel course involves lectures on Wednesday afternoons between September and March, while the Bournemouth course is based around distance learning with attendance on selected weekends.

Typically, the courses that provide an exemption from the Foundation Certificate Exams offer a broad view of the theory underlying the main types of IP; Patents, Trade Marks, Copyright, Designs and Trade Secrets, as well as providing a basic grounding in UK law and European Competition law.

Queen Mary also runs a year-long MSc in the Management of IP which confers an exemption from the Foundation Diploma certificate. Unlike the courses described above, which are usually taken by trainees once they are employed within the profession, the Queen Mary MSc course is usually taken by students of their own initiative and while many of those taking the course will be doing so with the intention of becoming a patent or trade mark attorney this course tends to attract students with a wider variety of interests than the Certificate courses.

There are some other courses that may confer an exemption from one or more of the Foundation Certificate Exams. For example, a law degree may confer an exemption from the law exam but this is not necessarily the case. A list of the various exemptions is available from the Patent Examination Board (PEB) website.

There are currently no courses that confer an exemption from all the UK Final Diploma Exams, or the European Qualifying Exams.

Preparation for Examinations

Many firms provide in-house training directed to exam preparation and the CIPA Informals group also provides a programme of lectures and tutorials directed to the various UK and European examinations.  In addition there are several training providers that run exam preparation courses which tend to be focused on effective exam technique. The courses most commonly attended by UK trainees include the courses run by JDD consultants, CEIPI and DeltaPatents. The JDD courses (usually held in Milton Keynes) cover both the UK and European exams and typically last a day and a half or two days per exam. The CEIPI seminars, which take place in Strasbourg vary in length between a day and a half (papers A and B), two days (paper C) and a week (Paper D).  CEIPI also runs basic training courses in London or Manchester that are held as a series of evening classes over a one or two year period. As well as producing a range of well-regarded Exam Methodology books, DeltaPatents run a range of courses at various locations throughout Europe (including in London).

Litigation Courses

Since 2013 newly-qualified UK Patent Attorneys are required to take an accredited basic litigation skills course within three years of qualifying. Nottingham Law School, CPD Training and CIPA are currently accredited to run these courses. Again the format of these courses varies between different providers, and it is likely that your firm will have a particular provider that it typically uses.

For those attorneys particularly interested in litigation, Nottingham Law School also runs Intellectual Property Litigation and Advocacy courses which allow you to qualify as a Patent Attorney Litigator with the right to practice before the higher UK courts. These courses are typically taken by qualified attorneys with several years’ post-qualification experience.

Unified Patent Court

At the time of writing it is anticipated that the new Unified Patent Court (UPC) system will come into being in early 2017.  The rules of procedure associated with the UPC are not yet finalised but it is likely that new entrants to the profession will, in the future, need to undertake an accredited course in order to obtain rights of audience before the UPC.

Taking a course before joining the profession

It is common practice within the profession for trainees to take the courses discussed above once they have started work with a firm (and asking which, if any, of the above courses a firm sends its trainees on, and what support the firm provides in terms of course fees/accommodation costs should be a key question for any prospective trainee at interview). However, it is possible to take some of the courses discussed above or indeed other IP courses, before joining the profession.

A question I am often asked by prospective trainees is whether they should take one of the courses discussed above at their own expense in order to increase their prospects of obtaining a trainee position. If your degree included an IP element, or your interest in the subject has led you to take a course in IP then this is certainly something to shout about on your CV but if the sole reason you are contemplating an IP courses is to increase your chances of securing a position as a patent trainee then my advice would be to think very carefully.

The weight an employer gives to the fact that a trainee has already taken an IP course will vary from employer to employer and will depend in part on the particular course taken. Taking on a new trainee involves a significant investment and long term commitment on the part of a firm. The course fees associated with most of the courses discussed above are likely to be a relatively small component of that cost as compared to, for example, the time spent by experienced attorneys on training you. For this reason, while having taken one of the above courses may carry some weight with prospective employers, it is rarely likely to be the decisive factor in determining which candidates are ultimately employed.

Head to our Course Directory to see what options are available to you. 

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