Sharing expertise to boost patent quality
By Fatima Beattie, Deputy Director General, IP Australia
Patent examiners are on the front-line of the patent system. They are responsible for assessing whether the latest technological innovations, as outlined in patent applications, are sufficiently new and inventive to qualify for patent protection. It is a job that requires specialist technical knowledge as well as an in-depth understanding of patent law.
Training patent examiners to operate effectively takes time and commitment. In April 2013, IP Australia, the government agency responsible for administering patents in Australia, and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) with the support of WIPO, launched the innovative Regional Patent Examination Training program (RPET). The aim is to boost the knowledge and skills of patent examiners in South East Asia and Africa to enable them to examine patents to international standards.
Photo: IP Australia
RPET is a modern, comprehensive and intensive online training program delivered remotely to participants in different countries and time zones using e-learning technologies. Eight examiners from Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Kenya and the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO) are participating in the current inaugural RPET program.
The overall goal of the program is to build the patent examination capabilities of trainees from participating offices by:
- improving their competency to conduct search and examination to international standards (PCT standards - see Figure 1);
- embedding learning into the workplace; and
- providing an opportunity to align domestic practices with international standards.
“The RPET program is an exciting capacity-building initiative. Sharing expertise is a practical way for countries to improve the quality of their domestic IP rights system. In turn, this can contribute to a more secure environment for investment in innovation and sustainable economic growth.” said WIPO Director General Francis Gurry, during a recent visit to Australia.
“This initiative builds on WIPO’s existing collaborations with national offices to assist least-developed and developing countries to promote and protect their creativity through the intellectual property system,” he added. WIPO is providing support for African participation in the 2013 RPET program.
About RPET funding
The RPET program is an activity of the Agreement Establishing the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Area (AANZFTA) Economic Cooperation Work Program (ECWP), which is funded by the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) and the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
A competency-based program
The RPET initiative is a competency-based program that focuses on search and examination procedures under WIPO’s Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT). It is modelled on the approach to examiner training introduced by IP Australia several years ago to improve training outcomes and the quality and consistency of its work.
RPET Curriculum and standards of practice. The RPET program includes an induction
and four training phases.
“IP Australia is uniquely placed to develop and deliver a program like RPET,” said IP Australia’s Director General Philip Noonan. “We have been administering and examining patents for over 110 years; and acting as an International Searching and Preliminary Examination Authority under the PCT for over 30 years. This experience, combined with our established training and internationally accredited quality systems, affords us the opportunity to assist other national patent offices to enhance their examination standards and contribute to a more effective PCT system.”
A learner-focused design
The learner-focused design of the program means that trainees work through the program at their own pace, for up to a maximum of two years, to attain competency. Trainees with relevant prior knowledge of patent examination can attain competency more quickly. This means they will have demonstrated the skills required to examine applications independently, consistently and to international standards.
Each trainee is supported by an experienced Australian examiner who provides one-on-one mentoring, on-the-job training and continuous assessment of trainees’ work. Participating offices have also identified a local mentor to support each trainee in their local office and to work closely with the Australian trainers to monitor trainee progress.
A virtual learning environment provides access to e-learning resources, including a multimedia handbook for participants, and serves as a platform for delivering training remotely. It also facilitates communication among all those involved in running the program: the trainees, local supervisors and their Australian trainers.
A hallmark of the RPET program is its emphasis on “community of practice”. This creates an opportunity for trainees to discuss what they have learned and how it may be applied to domestic practices to bring the examination capability of their national office into line with international standards.
Training is conducted in English and each week trainees are involved in a mixture of real-time virtual classroom sessions and online discussions.
The feedback from course participants has been very positive. The trainers are also finding their experience of this innovative program rewarding. “I’ve really enjoyed seeing the participants begin to form relationships and share knowledge as part of a community of practice,” said Edwina Vandine, RPET Trainer (Pharmaceutical), at IP Australia “The learning isn’t one way. As trainers, we learn a lot from the participants about their culture, challenges and practices, and that’s something I’ve found particularly satisfying.”
Programs such as RPET hold great promise in enabling IP offices of developing countries to improve their patent examination capabilities in line with international standards. In time, this will lead to higher quality and more consistent IP rights being granted which will help boost business confidence in these markets.
What trainees are saying about the RPET program
In an anonymous survey, trainees made the following comments about the program :
- “I have learnt a lot in Phase A which has definitely developed my effectiveness as an examiner.”
- “My knowledge is increasing after joining this virtual classroom and slowly I begin to be more confident on what am I doing as a patent examiner.”
- “My colleagues in the office really appreciate it when I transfer to them some of the examination skills I have acquired from the RPET program.”