Exams for patent information professionals - mocks held

Professional certification for patent information experts took a step closer to becoming reality this October, when 54 people sat mock exams to test their search skills - and to test-drive the exam concept.

Five cities, 54 candidates, two papers, 14 hours of tests

The examinations took place on 5 and 6 October at Thomson Reuters in London, the Swedish Patent Office in Stockholm, and at the EPO in Munich and The Hague. These same exams were held a week later in New Brunswick, New Jersey. The volunteers sitting the exams came from industry, private practice and patent offices and their experience ranged from one to twenty years in the profession. Their skills were stretched in two papers of seven hours each, spread over two days, with an option to do papers on chemical or engineering subjects. Of the volunteers, 29 went for chemistry, 25 for engineering.

Search skills

Searching skills were under scrutiny in the paper on day one (called ‘Paper A’). The candidates had to develop a search strategy while explaining each choice they made during the process. Of course, there is no one correct way to get the results of a patent search, but the explanations will help the markers to understand the choices the examination candidates made when planning the search.

Candidates also had to perform the search and show how many and what results they retrieved. Thanks to the commercial providers who provided free login ids for the day, all participants could use the systems of their own choice. They had to complete two search cases within the seven hours that were allowed for the paper. The timing was, of course, very tight, and the developers of the exams assumed that only experienced patent professionals would be able to perform two ‘reasonable’ searches within such a short time frame.

Legal and analytical skills

The second day tested the candidates' legal knowledge and analytical skills. Again there was a choice between a chemistry and an engineering paper. Each paper started with a set of theoretical questions, regarding, for instance, priority and expiration dates, and claim interpretation. Participants indicated afterwards they found this part quite difficult, and that they would normally look up that kind of information. The general idea behind these questions, is that – even if you usually look up the answers – you should know where to do so, and understand the details of what you find. In future exams, participants will get more information about what will be asked from them, so that they can prepare thoroughly for the theoretical part. Each candidate also had to make a selection from some documents provided for two different cases, and explain why they made the selection they did. Overall, it seemed this exam was easier to do than the first paper, since many participants were ready within the seven hours.

Results in six months

No formal breaks were scheduled, so participants could divide their time among the questions and cases as they preferred. In practice the participants went out of the rooms only briefly to eat or drink something, and returned quickly to continue with their work. It was impressive to see all these volunteers work so hard. Their contribution is greatly appreciated.

The project team has indicated it will probably take about six months for them to mark all the exams,. There will be an analysis of the participants' background based on data collected via a pre-exam survey. Candidates also completed a post-exam questionnaire which will give the organisers guidance on possible improvements they could make. The first oral feedback seems to indicate that the exams were tough, but had roughly the right set-up and level. If this is confirmed by the outcomes, it will mean a big step forward in this project.

More information

The Confederacy of European Patent Information User Groups (CEPIUG) and the Patent Documentation Group (PDG) are leading the effort to introduce certification for patent information specialists.

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