Competent and complete advice to principals is only possible in the field of Intellectual property through broad technical and legal knowledge. For this reason, since the entry into force of the Federal Act of 20 March 2009 on Patent Attorneys, only persons benefitting from the necessary professional qualifications may practice in Switzerland as patent attorneys. The most important qualifications are to be an authorised representative before the European Patent Office (EPO) and registered as a Swiss Patent Attorney with the Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property (IPI).
The precise conditions to practice the profession of Patent Attorney and the education to become a Patent Attorney are often unclear. For this reason, the ASPTA provides the following information. Special and transitory regulations are left out, in order to allow a better overview. The masculine form only is used for the sake of clarity. It obviously includes the feminine form.
Education of a European Patent Representative or Attorney
Education as a European Patent Attorney is essentially, but not exclusively, based on the advising and representation of principals in relation to the filing of European patents. This in particular includes the preparation of new filings, their accompaniment during the delivery process before the EPO and oppositions brought against patents delivered to third parties.
Basic education in engineering or natural sciences
Education as a European Patent Attorney starts with education in engineering or natural sciences, allowing the acquisition of general and technical knowledge useful for future practice as a Patent Attorney. In order for studies to be taken into account for education as a Patent Attorney, at least 80% of course hours must have been in the field of engineering or natural sciences. Further, these studies must have concluded at least with a Bachelor or equivalent university degree.
After this basic technical training, the actual Patent Attorney education may begin. This usually includes at least three years’ work as a Patent engineer, during which a trainee Patent Attorney works as a candidate under the direction and supervision of a qualified European Patent Attorney, thus practicing in the various fields of patent law. Part-time work at a minimum of 50% may be taken into account proportionately, but may not last less than three months.
Beyond this education in the framework of practical daily work (on the job), candidates must acquire, by personal study or by external courses (i.e. CEIPI) complete theoretical knowledge of patent law concerning the European Patent Convention (EPC) and the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT). Additionally, he must master the main procedural principles before the principal Patent Offices worldwide, such as the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and the Japan Patent Office (JPO).
The technical fields covered by the candidates during their practical training usually depend on the area of specialisation and of technical activities of the Patent Attorney in charge of his supervision. Frequently, these only partly overlap with technical knowledge acquired during academic studies. A Patent Engineer must often act as much as a generalist as a specialist, this also being important later in his practice as a qualified Patent Engineer. Broad general technical knowledge, as well as an interest in mastering new fields, is thus important.
The professional knowledge acquired during the mandatory period as a Patent engineer must be verified in the end by success in the European qualifying examination (EQE) organised by the EPO. The patent engineer must in particular demonstrate complete knowledge of the European Patent Convention, the preparation of filings and the delivery and opposition procedures before the European Patent Office. The patent engineer must also demonstrate that he can work in a sure manner in at least two of the three official languages of the EPO (English, German and French).
Since 2012, the European qualifying examination has usually consisted of a preliminary examination after two years of work at least, and a principal examination to be passed at the earliest after an additional year’s work. Passing the preparatory examination is a condition for admission to the principal examination. The European qualifying examination is considered to be very difficult.
More information on training as a professional representative is available on the websites of the Institute of Professional Representatives before the European Patent Office and of the European Patent Office.
Education as a Swiss Patent Attorney
The necessary professional qualifications to be registered in the Swiss Registry of Patent Attorneys are essentially the same as those to be registered as a professional representative before the European Patent Office.
Basic education in engineering or natural science
A basic requirement for registration in the Swiss registry of Patent Attorneys is a recognised university diploma in engineering or natural science. The minimum requirements for these studies essentially correspond to those for the European qualifying procedure. Subjects considered to belong to engineering or natural science are biochemistry, biology, biotechnology, chemistry, construction, electronics, electro-technology, information technology, mathematics, mechanics, medicine, pharmacology, and physics.
Basic education is followed by professional education in patents under the direction and supervision of a qualified Patent Attorney. During this time, the candidate must acquire specialised knowledge in the field of Swiss, European and international patent law, as well as of the other fields of intellectual property law, such as trademark, design and copyright law. He must in particular acquire during this period knowledge of the Swiss patent authorities, as well as of the formalities and deadlines of Swiss patent delivery procedure. The IPI, in collaboration with ASPTA, VESPA and VIPS, annually offers an appropriate training course. Contrary to the education as a European Patent Attorney, the minimum period of full-time work depends under the Swiss procedure on the type of academic diploma. The minimum time is of three years for bearers of Masters, diplomas, licence or other title of the same value. For candidates with a Bachelor or equivalent value, this period is of four years.
Professional education as a Swiss Patent Attorney may be obtained concurrently with that as European Patent Attorney.
A Patent Attorney must pass a four-part Swiss examination, of which two must usually be passed in the framework of the European qualifying examination. The two other parts concern Swiss procedure and general Intellectual Property fields.
More information on the Federal Patent Attorney Examination is available on the website of the relevant Examination Chamber.
Access to candidacy / Beginning
Requirements for the training
Beyond the formal requirements already described, many qualities are necessary to succeed in the training and in later professional practice. They include the ability to understand rapidly, good analytical thinking, an interest in technology, pleasure in language and reliable and rigorous working methods. Because of the long training period, great perseverance is also necessary.
Looking for a job
Looking for a training place is often a first big obstacle to training as a Patent Attorney. On the one hand, the number of such places is limited in Switzerland, and on the other, free places are rarely advertised.
Experience shows that when looking for a job it is worth sending spontaneous offers to potential employers, possibly after a prior telephone contact. ASPTA member firms welcome such offers.