The Patent Agent Exam is an exam conducted by the Government of India to enable qualified professionals to register and thereby practice as patent agents. Patent Agents are defined under Section 2(n) of the Patents Act, 1970 as a “person registered under the Act as a patent agent.” Section 127 of the Act lays down that Patent Agents can practice before the Controller of Patents and also prepare documents, transact business and discharge such other functions as prescribed in the Act, regarding proceedings before the Controller. Registered patent agents can practice independently like chartered accountants, or can choose to be employed in law firms and international companies specialising in patents.
The Patent Agent Exam is conducted by the Office of The Controller General of Patents, Designs & Trade Marks under the Indian Patents Office, Government of India. The Indian Patent Office does not conduct the exam at fixed regular intervals. The last exam was conducted in 2018 and an exam was to be held on 28.06.2020 but has been postponed due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The registration for the exam can be done both online or offline but the exam is invariably conducted using pen and paper in physical examination centres in five cities across India – Chennai, Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai and Nagpur. The author of this blogpost suggests that the exam be shifted to the internet, and be conducted online. There are several reasons that warrant this shift:
- The exam is being conducted only in five cities in a country as large as India, and this imposes on the candidates the burden of travelling from far corners of the country to these five cities. Apart from logistics being a problem, this also makes it a time consuming and expensive affair for the candidates. The inadequate number of exam centres is especially challenging in the present circumstances where there is a contagious disease spreading like wildfire and travel poses a serious health risk to the general public.
- The registration for the exam may be completed online. The results are also published online on the official website of the Controller. The Register containing names of all patent agents with a subsisting and valid registration is also maintained electronically. Various documents published by the Office of the Controller in relation to the exam including notification of the exam being held is done online. In such a case, there appears no reason why the single act of attempting the exam should continue to be carried out in person.
- The Indian Patent Office has begun online operations which have only been further expanded during the pandemic. Hearings of parties by way of video conferences, electronic submission of paperwork, and communication via telephones and emails have become an integral part of the functioning of the Indian Patent Office. Therefore, it makes sense to complete the shift to online functioning by transforming the exam into an online test.
- As on 3 April 2020, India has 4000 registered Patent Agents. It is felt that this number is inadequate, and that growing technological developments in the country are only further increasing the demand for patent agents. COVID has further aggravated the need to produce more patent agents. Pharmaceutical and technological advancements are on the rise and the curve is expected to only go upwards. Making the exam an online test and conducting it at regular intervals would enable more people to take the test and establish themselves as patent agents.
- Several other countries have stopped administering paper tests and have made their equivalent patent agent exams a wholly online computer generated test. The US for example, conducts the test throughout the year at several test centres across the country where the applicant can pick a date of their choice for the exam. The Canadian IP Office administers an electronic test sent to the registered candidates via email in a PDF document and the answers are to be submitted in MS Word documents. With the outbreak of COVID-19, the Patent Examination Board of the UK has decided to conduct their exams online. Candidates are permitted to take the test at their private address and will be invigilated over a video call on Zoom. This is the first time the exams are being conducted in such a manner in the UK. It is expected that the Europe Qualifying Examination will also be conducted along similar lines for the year 2021. In Singapore, the default mode of taking the test is through laptops and anyone who wants to opt-out of the same and personally “write” for the examination has to send in an official request for the same stating the reason for wanting to opt-out. The Examination Board shall scrutinise each such application and decide on a case to case basis whether permission to opt-out may be granted.
Thus, we see various persuasive reasons to reform the Patent Agent Exam in India and make it an online test, and the need to do so. There are other more obvious reasons such as reduced monetary cost of conducting the exam, cutting huge amounts of direct and indirect environmental costs, ease of invigilation of exam that serve as additional reasons to push for a reform. Given that IP Offices across the world have moved to online functioning, qualifying exams in many countries have become online and the Indian Patent Office’s own processes exhibit an increasing incorporation of technology and the internet the time is ripe to make the switch.